Jesus Christ Superstar: Webber/Rice rock opera resurrected - OMG!
Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk Entertainment.com
Jesus never had it so bad. First was the mediocre revival of GODSPELL and now this – the resurrection of the very famous, extremely profitable, completely sung through 1971 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – JE-SUS CHRIST SU-PER-STAR.
With those immediately identifiable six syllables and six notes, this once ground breaking show has become under the direction of Des McAnuff, Artistic Director of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival where this production originated – a high tech, sterile, American Idol inspired music video replete with vocal pyrotechnics from all involved - a blending of the worst of what Las Vegas and the best that Radio City Music Hall has to offer.
The usual “turn of your cell phones and open your candy” voiceover promises that “the score will drown you out” if you don’t heed the advice. This promise is made good. More suited to a rock concert in an arena than on a Broadway stage the music overpowers to a point of covering up ones ears. Granted you can understand each and every word from the actors but they have been encouraged to screech instead of sing. Belting takes over believability, deafening noise substituting for true emotion. With air stabbing Ninja choreography by Lisa Shriver.
The generic all purpose industrial looking Blinds to Go (or is it Blinds R Us?) hardly inspired set by Robert Brill left me cold as did the entire production. The running ticker tape LED like narrow screen indicating date and location is a nod to our modern computer age mentality attempting to make this dated opera timeless.
The color coded costumes by Paul Tazewell: White (Jesus – Paul Nolan) Yellow (Mary Magdalene - Chilina Kennedy) Blue (Judas Iscariot- Josh Young) Purple (Pontius Pilot- Tom Hewitt) and Red (King Herod or is it Queen Herod? – Bruce Dow) are an odd mixture of period and modern.
With broad strokes and a few songs that have become Broadway standards – “Everything’s Alright” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Superstar” we get a consolidated version of the last week in the life of Christ ending with his crucifixion which here is realized in a beautiful tableau. One almost expected the audience to join in as Pontius Pilate counted out the 39 lashes inflicted on Jesus.
In a stab at humor, King Herod prances around in a vaudeville style number “Herod’s Song” looking like he is auditioning for Norma Desmond.
Josh Young takes home the coveted audience favorite award for best of show.
Let’s hope EVITA fares better.
At the Neil Simon Theatre.
Photo: Joan Marcus