BWW Reviews: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Circle Theatre)
Circle Theatre has opened its 2014 season with a bold and beautiful production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, to remarkable success.
From the very first glance, the set is commanding, but throughout the course of the show, its true perfection is in the technical execution and the cast's utilization of this multifunctional set. Performed in the round on a 5-level rotating structure, aptly nicknamed "The Beast", and with music brought straight into the audience during the rousing and disturbing "Hosanna", the show is a truly interactive experience.
Jesus Christ Superstar, though the plot follows the final week of the titular character, is really the story of Judas and how he comes to betray the man that he loves and hates in equal measure. At the opening, Judas Iscariot expresses his frustration and disillusionment with the path that Jesus and his followers have taken, creating a religious movement that would be viewed as a menace by the conquering Roman Empire, and criticizes Jesus' association with Mary Magdalene, a prostitute. The priests, as it happens, have already come to a similar conclusion and put a plot in place to arrest Jesus and eliminate his threat for good. After Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he is overrun by people seeking healing and help, encounters money lenders and merchants occupying the temple, and has several touching moments with Mary, where she expresses her growing love and soothes him of his worry. Judas, in the meantime, agrees to help the priests in finding Jesus, unaware (or unwilling to accept) that they mean to kill him, and accepts 30 pieces of silver for payment as he tells him that Jesus will be found in the Garden of Gethsemane the next night. During the "Last Supper" Jesus announces that one of the apostles has betrayed him, and another will soon denounce him three times. True to his word, these come to pass, as Judas identifies Jesus to his captors by kissing him on the cheek, and after his arrest, Peter claims he does not know him. Jesus is brought to Caiaphas, then Pontius Pilate, and finally to King Herod, who condemns him to his death upon the cross.
All of the leads in this show can sing (oh, can they sing!) and Matt Tepper's Jesus and Molly Jones' Mary Magdalene are well-paired and believable together. Jones' "I Don't Know How to Love Him" is one of the best I've heard, and Tepper's high notes can be described as no less than angelic. The breakout star of the show, however, is Judas, played by Stephen Grey. The vulnerability and rage he brings to the role not only shows his range and remarkable skill as an actor, but also makes one think twice about anything they may have believed about the character going in to the evening. I do not hesitate to say that I would not be at all surprised to see another Grand Award nomination in his future for this performance.
A special mention must also be given to Bart Sumner who raises the audience up so delightfully with the wacky "King Herod's Song", so as to be completely crushed by the heart-rending conclusion. The audience is run through a gauntlet of emotion during the course of the show, leaving us wounded, inspired, and in full appreciation of what good theatre can and should be.
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice; directed and choreographed by Jolene Frankey; music direction by Wright McCargar. Presented by Circle Theatre at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center, 1607 Robinson Rd SE in Grand Rapids; Tickets (616) 456-6656 or www.circletheatre.org. Running May 8 through 24; Curtain for performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30PM. Sunday performances begin at 5:00PM.
Paul Arnold (Priest), Mark Ayers (Apostle/Soldier), Franklene Baker (Soul Trio), Jessica Barton (Ensemble), Reed Bretz (Priest), Jonathan Clausen (Pilate), Jason DeJager (Apostle), Whitney Dykhouse (Ensemble), Courtney Failer (Ensemble), Nick Favreau (Apostle), Audrey Filson (Ensemble), Ray Gordon (Priest), Stephen Grey (Judas), Amy Groen (Ensemble), Matt Hartman (Apostle), Molly Jones (Mary Magdalene), Kelsey Kohlenberger (Ensemble), Brian Lauer (Peter), Maddy Mathias (Ensemble), John Miller, Jr. (Apostle/Soldier), Jason Morrison (Annas), Preston Mulligan (Simon), Michael Peneycad (Apostle), Marisa Purcey (Soul Trio), Alicia Rosario (Soul Trio), Jonathan Schafer (Apostle), Bart Sumner (King Herod), Katie Szostak (Ensemble), Matt Tepper (Jesus), G.M. Bud Thompson (Caiaphas), Austin Unseld (Apostle), Maris Wimmer (Ensemble)
THE BAND: Scott Patrick Bell (Keyboard), Jim Dow (Guitar), Pat Handlin (Bass), Wright McCargar (Conductor/Keyboard), Bob Ruthven (Drums)