BWW Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Presents JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Martyr? Minister? Zealot? Messiah? For centuries, the riddle of Jesus has been dissected by scores of scholars and artists with one of the more imaginative takes being Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's supersonic rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. When it hit the Broadway stage in 1971, it was a phenom, leveraging and reflecting the mood and attitude of the counterculture and coming at the Jesus question through a uniquely different angle ~ through the lens of Judas Iscariot. The music made your body vibrate and the theme made your head tickle, and you wanted answers to the musical question, "What's the buzz, tell me what's a-happening?" With whom should you be sympathizing ~ the institutions and the empire whose legitimacy was being threatened by a rabble-rouser; his tribesmen, as epitomized by Judas, who feared that their own safety would be compromised by his agitation; himself, who was torn by his own questions about his purpose and fate?
Enter Arizona Broadway Theatre with a rousing and colorful production of SUPERSTAR that offers the audience the opportunity to revisit these thorny questions.
After forty-six years and all the changes and traumas our culture has endured, SUPERSTAR still resonates, perhaps with an added and especially prickly relevance to our celebrity-centric times, most poignantly expressed in Judas's challenge to Jesus: "You've started to believe the things they say of you...And all the good you've done will soon be swept away, you've begun to matter more than the things you say."
This is the promise of a show like SUPERSTAR, replete with opportunities for nuance and atmospherics and intensity and critical thinking. If ABT doesn't get all the way there in maximizing these opportunities (particularly in the climactic and gut-wrenching Crucifixion scene), it does manage nevertheless to deliver on razzle and dazzle, sandwiching its characters between Michaela Lynne Stein's wild and exotic wardrobe designs (Herod appearing like a cutout of Elton John, Caiaphas like a character from a Flash Gordon film, and the underground Apostles like extras from The Hunger Games) and the robust musicianship of Kevin Finn's orchestra (which, at times, despite its richness, had an annoying tendency to drown out the singers).
This is not a show long on character development, although the opportunity exists here as well, and, if the audience doesn't pick up on the provocative subtext, it will certainly be entertained and moved by the wailing vocals of Jesus (Brett Travis) and Judas (Shawn W. Smith), the heartfelt rendition of the Magdalene's I Don't Know How to Love Him by Cassandra Klaphake (one of four stars rotating in the role), and the energetic performance of the ensemble.
The bottom line is that there's passion enough in ABT's version of Webber and Rice's Passion musical, but a dash and half more passion would make it a blockbuster.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR continues its run at Arizona Broadway Theatre through April 16th.
Photo credit to Scott Samplin