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Sunday, 01 April 2012 13:46

Broadway Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

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Paul Nolan (l), Josh Young and the Company of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Paul Nolan (l), Josh Young and the Company of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Photo: Joan Marcus

Jesus Christ has returned (not really) in the new production of Jesus Christ Superstar which just arrived on Broadway from Stratford via La Jolla. At the helm of this new production is Des McAnuff, the man who brought us Broadway hits like Tommy and Jersey Boys, to name just a few.  Unfortunately, McAnuff's ...Superstar is super sterile. This is not a horrible production, but it is a little bland.

Though Andrew Lloyd Webber's pop-rock score has never sounded better, at times it feels like an episode of “American Idol” with the contestants... er... actors wailing, and not always on terra firma.

The musical chronicles the last couple of weeks of Jesus Christ’s life, right up through and including his crucifixion.  The three principals give respectable performances, but two of them are as emotionally connected as a Stepford wife.  

As Judas, Josh Young brings the most emotion to his role.  He has a lovely singing voice but it’s stretched to its limit by the material. On some of the higher sustained notes, Mr. Young had intonation and cracking problems.  However, in fairness to all in this production, any vocal stress could have been caused by just coming off of opening week, a week that is preceded by days of “ten-out-of-twelves,” a union phrase describing the length of a work day.  On average, a show will have about three of these long days.  Generally this time is reserved for rehearsing the technical elements of a production.  They can be long, tedious days and they take their tole on the cast, even if they aren't always singing full-out.

As Jesus Christ, Paul Nolan is nearly catatonic.  His performance has no soul.  Nolan has an interesting voice; it sounds like it is placed largely in his head.  While it has the clarity of a bell, it lacks dimension.  

Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene is entirely uninteresting.  She has no emotional connection to the material or her character. For her best song in the show, “I Don't Know How To Love Him,” McAnuff does her no favors as he rushes her into the song from the song before it (the reprise of “Everything’s Alright”) without a moment for transition. This makes the transition jarring and less fulfilling for the audience.  Her skills are also being tested here. Her upper register is markedly different in strength from her lower register giving the appearance of a diminished volume once she gets past the passaggio and into her upper register.  

Tom Hewitt is suave as the indecisive Pontius Pilot.  He has a Tom Jones look about him.  Bruce Dow is fun as King Herod, channeling a bit of Dom DeLuise on “Herod’s Song.”

The scenic design by Robert Brill is two levels with the upper level circling the lower level like a horseshoe. It has an industrial feel to it with horizontal metal pipes that look like the outside of the New York Times building.  There are two large stair cases that practically become dance partners for some of the chorus members as they continually move them from one position to another.  McAnuff's blocking is a continual parade of actors repeating their steps up and down the same staircases. It becomes tiresome.

There is a "zipper" (the kind they used to have around the outside of the building at 1 Times Square before the gentrification of Times Square) scrolling the time and place of each scene as they count down to Jesus's death.  The show makes use of creative video projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis.  One of the most emotionally effective moments in the whole show is after Jesus’s death.  After he is pulled off the cross, the entire company is standing on stage as the orchestra plays “John 19:41” and projections of bible verses are scrolling across the back and side of the set.  The lighting by Howell Binkley is vibrant and stunning.

There were no credits in the Playbill for orchestrations, which is a shame because they were beautiful. After inquiring about this with the press agent I was informed that some of them were done by David Cullen many years ago. Cullen has been involved with many of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other productions.

David Tazewell's costumes are a combination of nondescript robes and mental patient escapee meets ninja bad-ass.  All of the apostles had a modern bag of some type or another, messenger bags, backpacks, and the like.  

I enjoyed myself but found myself distracted by the production’s short-comings.  This is a difficult score to sing.  Each of the three principals has an immense amount of vocal talent, I just think we’re seeing their breaking points with this score.  That score, however, is what’s so enjoyable about this production, and the show in general, even if Tim Rice’s lyrics feel a little clumsy at times.  If you are looking for a bit of nostalgia, you can’t go wrong with this production.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 April 2012 22:46

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