note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Webber and Rice have never been as good apart as they were together, witness their hip, joyful rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" --- revived at Turtle Lane Playhouse just in time for Easter. It works as a musical. It grooves as rock 'n' roll, and it packs a spiritual punch to boot.
"Superstar" ruffled a lot of feathers when the album hit the States in the mid-sixties. The not yet famous team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice couldn't find backers for a stage production, so they cut an album. Since "Superstar" paints Judas as a victim, a lot of God-fearing parents forbade their kids to buy the album. This was, you will recall, the decade of rebellion and the album became a phenomenon. Then the phenomenon became a Broadway show...proving that timing is everything.
Webber and Rice fed off the culture to write their rock opera. They created a hippie Jesus who preaches brotherhood and non-violence. His followers waive palm fronds at the Roman soldiers just like flower children . And their apostles are beaten by the police just like civil rights marchers were. "Jesus Christ Superstar" struck a resonant chord in the newly dawning Age of Aquarius.
Director Lora Chase invents a sweet camaraderie among the disciples, a searing puppet/Judas, and gorgeous visuals of the cross --- aided by Joanne Savage's transcendent lighting. Choreographer Lauren Quinn gives the flower children simple undulating movements; she gives Herod a naughty tap number (a hilarious Paul Farwell dancing in flippers!), and a haunting ballet for the lepers clawing at Jesus' robe. And Chuck Walsh's Jesus is the stuff of legend; he wails and whispers --- all in perfect balance.
Chase gives each disciple a distinct characterization --- like the deeply conflicted Peter (Michael Roth) or the beatific Simon, who is completely enthralled with the saviour. Nephtaliem McCrary exudes goodness and light in the showstopping "Christ You Know I Love You...So Tell Me I Am Saved". We, too, must witness the superstar's appeal, and Walsh carries off the precarious balance between being human and divine, between being full of love and full of himself.
Christopher Mack is a compelling performer with a solid middle range to his voice, but opening night jitters betrayed his Judas so that he tightened up on the high notes. Once his vocal chords loosen up, he'll be a commanding Judas.
Laurie Davidson brings grace and first-rate vocals to Mary Magdalene's anthem "I Don't Know How to Love Him". Patrick English is a frightening Caiphas with eerie low notes in "This Jesus Must Die" which send chills along your spine. Michael Duarte and Albert Marandola lend their powerful presences to the high pries trio. Christopher Porth fills the stage as the steely-eyed Pilate, and Bobsie Mitton brings an ethereal hush to her portrayal of the Procurator's wife.
Ron L. Dion's elegant faux marble columned structures on either side of the stage frame the action centerstage. Richard Itczak's smart costumes suggest Biblical attire, with conical crowns for the scary high priests and modern times for comic effect, such as Herod decked out in beachwear and zinc sunscreen. From the ominous squeal of steel from Eric Clemenzi's righteous guitar at the start of the show to the pounding rhythms of the "Superstar" theme, Wayne Ward's orchestra rocked like it was 1967.