Published: April 16th 2012April 16th 2012
I like Jesus Christ Superstar. I will happily sit through a production of it whenever it comes to town. I saw it at Madison Square Garden in 1992 with Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson and Dennis DeYoung. And in 2000 at the Ford Theater. So I was looking forward to this production that had its genesis at Stratford in Canada. But at the end of the day, I was a bit disappointed in this production. The pre-show announcement was amusing, "if you feel the need for a candy, open them any time, the score will drown you out." For the most part, true, since the score is BLASTED through the Neil Simon's sound system. Not true for the time the woman next to me decided to rustle in her bag during one of the few quiet numbers (Can We Start Again Please?) of the show.
After the amusing announcement, the show almost immediately lost me. During the overture, the show set the tone that this was going to be an "urban revolution" take on things. Roman centurions who resembled something out of Star Wars clashed with disciples carrying backpacks and dressed in distressed modern garb. And Jesus's first meeting with his disciples looked more like a war briefing than a preaching session.
One of my favorite songs of JCS is the opening, "Heaven on their Minds," but while I liked Josh Young's singing, the fact that he was singing to Jesus instead of about him kind of bothered me. As did the continued presence of Mary Madgelene. In a bright yellow dress, she was almost always present, and usually between Judas and Jesus. It seemed like the director was attempting to play up some kind of romantic triangle, making it seem that Judas's reason for betraying Jesus was some sort of jealousy. Josh also did a decent job on the title song, and looked really nice in the blue suit they had him in for that scene. We saw an understudy for Jesus, Nick Cartell, who did well on the very difficult "Gethsemane," but who I found less effective during his confrontation scenes (in the Temple, with the lepers, at the Last Supper). Also ineffective was Bruce Dow's Herod. His one number is usually comic relief, but this version fell flat (and why is Herod not present at Pilate's after sending Jesus back to him?) My favorite of the show was Tom Hewitt as Pontius Pilate. The expression on his face when he recognized Jesus as the man from his dream and his discomfort during the flogging scene were wonderful. And where exactly does Marcus Nance (Caiaphas) keep that deep a voice? It sounded like it was coming from the basement!
The show was unexpectedly projection heavy. Starting with a count backwards from "Year 2012" to "Year 33" in the beginning and ending with Bible verses during the Crucifixion. I found most of the projections annoying and distracting. Don't keep telling me what day it is and where we are? It just makes me start thinking about all the discrepancies between the Gospels and whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover Seder and stuff like that. Completely took me out of the story. But some of the projections did work for me. The "light" streaming in through the "windows" when the priests met was effective (oh side note, why did they look like a cross between Chasidic Jews and Rasterfarians?), as was red stripe projections during the flogging. And the streaming Biblical verses was a nice touch to use during the instrumental part of John 19:41. Although I'm curious as to whether they actually projected that particular verse.
All in all, I'm not sure if I'd recommend this show. People who've never seen it might enjoy it, but I think die-hard fans would be disappointed.