April 22, 2003

 

Jesus Christ Superstar

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

If Jesus and Judas were anything like Eric Kunze and Carl Anderson, itís no wonder the Christian religion has mesmerized billions of people for two millennium. In Jesus Christ Superstar, the story of Jesusí betrayal by a kiss, and death by a cross, has the power to convert a new generation of theatregoers.

As any nascent Bible student knows, Jesus is a complex character who is constantly recreated in the eyes of those who want to know him. Jesus Chris Superstar, is the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the days before his crucifixion. In this reprisal, Director Kevin Moriarty gives Jesus his own compassionate personality, as well as reveals him through the eyes of Judas, Pilate, Mary Magdalene, Caiaphas and Annas. Employing a gritty set designed by Peter Davison and Roger Kirkís generation-spanning costume design, the show is a hybrid of pop-culture and religious fervor.

Set in a urban jungle in Rome, the show maintains the original edgy hipness that appealed to the counter-culture of the 1960s in its 1971 debut. Four pillars connected by scaffolding afford the disciples opportunity to display their athletic playfulness. The disciples wear retro clothes that span four decades of fashion with combinations of skin-tight low riders, flowing peasant blouses, camouflage khakis and muscle t-shirts. Colorful and varied, they look like todayís youth.

The Profiteers wear the slick suits and fedoras characteristic of the 1920s Mob. The Roman authorities look like a George Lucas version of the Gestapo. If Mae West were starring in a current Las Vegas revue she might look a lot like the women of Herodís Court.

Meanwhile, Judas and Jesus are timeless, for different reasons. Carl Anderson has been playing Judas off and on since 1971, and if heís tired of it I canít tell. His angst is palpable. His voice is memorable. His passion is daunting. Dramatically stalking the stage, dressed in combinations of red and black, he is the perfect foil for Kunzeís pale, calm Jesus, who wears a brilliant white shirt. Kunzeís tortured rendition of "Gethsemane" is achingly sweet. He wears the questioning expression found on many crucifixes in homes and churches. The scene where he is lashed by the mob is heartbreaking.

Natalie Toro plays a sultry Mary Magdalene, dressed in red. As Caiaphas, Lawson Skalaís low, slow delivery of the line "We need a more permanent solution to our problem," is chilling. His voice is beautifully complimented by the higher one of Annas, played by Rocky Rodriguez.

A few technical missteps are avoidable. They include blinding the audience with stage lights at the beginning of the show, and the pink and gold fringe backdrop during "Superstar" in Act Two. The hanging body of Judas needs more girth, and the lighted cross behind the actual one only works if you have a dead center seat.

It is a tribute to the intensity of the drama that "King Herodís Song" feels particularly shallow. The timeless tale is told so compellingly that it doesnít leave room for kitch.

Lynn Trenning, April 22, 2003

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