Review Roundup: Broadway-Bound JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at La Jolla Playhouse- UPDATED

Jesus Christ Superstar was the surprise hit of Stratford's 59th Season, boasting a completely sold out run (including a one week extension) and visits from Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice. The Broadway-bound show opened at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last night and runs through December 31.

The cast features Bruce Dow as King Herod, Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene, Jeremy Kushnier as Pontius Pilate, Mike Nadajewski as Peter, Paul Nolan as Jesus and Josh Young as Judas, with Marcus Nance as Caiaphas, Lee Siegel as Simon Zealotes and Aaron Walpole as Annas. Also in the cast: Matt Alfano as Thaddeus, Mary Antonini as Elizabeth, Karen Burthwright as Ruth, Jacqueline Burtney as Mary (Martha's Sister), Mark Cassius as Matthew, Ryan Gifford as Bartholomew, Kaylee Harwood as Sarah, Melissa O'Neil as Martha/Maid by the Fire, Laurin Padolina as Rachel, Stephen Patterson as James the Lesser, Katrina Reynolds as Esther, Jaz Sealey as Thomas, Jason Sermonia as John, Julius Sermonia as James, Jonathan Winsby as Phillip, Sandy Winsby as Andrew and Jennifer Rider-Shaw and Matthew Rossoff as swings.

Let's see what the critics had to say... 

Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times: O ye of little faith. To all those who made snarky comments when it was announced that “Jesus Christ Superstar” was being resurrected by Des McAnuff, I say unto you, “Go down to La Jolla Playhouse and observe the benevolent gift of this revival, which has had the miraculous effect of turning even an Andrew Lloyd Webber denier like me into a momentary believer.” ... Don’t fret, as I did going in, about spiritual dividing lines. Tightly focused and beautifully measured, this “Jesus Christ Superstar” gives everyone a reason to artistically rejoice this holiday season.

James Hebert, Sign On San Diego: What McAnuff does to redeem the piece’s shortcomings, though, is just about heroic. His production keeps sharp focus on the figure of Judas, portrayed by Young with intensity and a captivating sense of ambivalence. He earns the character a hard-won sympathy, even as Judas betrays Jesus to the Romans; the complexity of Young’s performance helps deepen the tensions in what McAnuff has called the “secular love triangle” among Mary Magdalene, Judas and Christ.

Welton Jones, SanDiego.com: Any doubts that JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is a genuine modern musical masterpiece should be banished forever by the splendid production in residence at the La Jolla Playhouse through December. Furthermore, though I will never be known as a devout religionist, I can’t imagine a more moving, more spiritual delivery of Christianity’s core story than this ... It may be some time before a more thoroughly satisfying production of a masterpiece will be available on a local stage. I can’t recommend it more sincerely and I particularly would hope than genuinely religious audiences find their way to the Mandell Weiss Theatre at UCSD. This is a gift that should be shared by all but could be even more special to many.

Pam Kragen, NC Times:  The production's filled with fine performances, particularly that of Josh Young as the disillusioned disciple Judas Iscariot. Young's got it all ---- undeniable charisma, a rich, ripping baritone voice, nuanced acting and great looks ---- which make him the show's breakout star (something Tony voters are likely to notice next spring). Paul Nolan's Jesus Christ is quiet, still and mysterious ---- a secretive, passive vessel used by the swirling masses around him as a repository for their own needs (spiritual, medical, political). He sings with searing high notes as he's betrayed and suffers nobly in the final scenes. And Chilina Kennedy's a modern, modest everywoman as the devoted prostitute Mary Magdalene, who appears to be an object of desire for both Jesus and Judas. Another standout is Jeremy Kushnier as Roman governor Pontius Pilate. "Jersey Boys" alumnus Kushnier joined the production last week when the original actor (Brent Carver) dropped out because of vocal strain. Kushnier's remarkably at ease in the role and delivers a multilayered performance. When he orders Jesus to be flogged to appease the bloodthirsty crowd, Kushnier's face spins through a kaleidoscope of emotions (uninterest, anger, bitterness, disgust, fear, pity) as he counts out each of the excruciating 39 lashes.

Bob Verini, Variety: Concept comes to full fruition in the title number, usually carelessly tossed in just because A, it's great; and B, it's on the album. Here, McAnuff reincarnates Judas as a spangled Jimmy Swaggart, strutting atop a ramp jutting out over the auditorium. As the quietly dignified Jesus begins to speak at his side, the sizzling Young revs up the evangelical fervor - and suddenly we can't hear a word of The Word; the gospel becomes an afterthought. This dramatization of man's inhumanity to Jesus' message becomes a memorable staging coup.

Bill Eadie, TalkinBroadway: But, what makes this production of Jesus Christ Superstar into more than a pleasant, if aurally loud, evening in the theatre is the care in which the storyline is presented. Abetted by Lisa Shriver's energetic and enervating choreography and Paul Tazewell's carefully crafted costumes, Mr. McAnuff sets Messrs. Webber and Rice's passion play firmly into the religious and political struggles of the first century of The Common Era. While audiences might be familiar with the outline of the story, the show's visual elements never let the narrative sag.

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