Review Roundup: National Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Resumes; What Are the Critics Saying?

The tour resumed performances at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, OR on September 28, 2021.

By: Nov. 10, 2021
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Review Roundup: National Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Resumes; What Are the Critics Saying?

The tour of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar resumed performances at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, OR on September 28, 2021 and will continue to play over 25 cities during the 2021-2022 season including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and many more.

Aaron LaVigne returns to his role as Jesus, joined by the return of James T. Justis as Judas and Jenna Rubaii as Mary. The tour also welcomes back Alvin Crawford as Caiphas, Tommy Sherlock as Pilate, and Tyce Green as Annas. Christian A. Guerrero joins the cast as standby for Jesus and Judas.

The ensemble includes David Andre, Sara Andreas, Courtney Arango, Wesley J. Barnes, Milena J. Comeau, Lydia Ruth Dawson, Derek Ferguson, Brian Golub, Brittany Rose Hammond, Garfield Hammonds, Quiana Holmes, Darrell T. Joe, Sheila Jones, Jacob Lacopo, Paul Louis Lessard, Eric A. Lewis, Tommy McDowell, Danny Mchugh, Jenny Mollet, Sarah Parker, Erick Patrick, SandyRedd, Cooper Stanton and Chelsea Williams.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Keller Auditorium - Portland, OR

Bekki, Chasing Supermom: You may know and love the music. ("What's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happening? has been in my head ALL morning.) And if the musical experience is all you take away from the live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, you will not be disappointed. While the entire ensemble cast absolutely shines on stage, Aaron LaVigne's portrayal of Jesus was phenomenal. Jesus as a ringer for any front-man of any successful rock-and-roll band was an absolute surprise and delight for this church-girl.

Paramount Theatre - Seattle, WA

Gemma Alexander, Seattle Times: Aaron LaVigne duplicates the heavy-metal scream of Ted Neeley's Jesus in the 1973 film, but also brings a smooth tenor to more reflective moments. His version of "Gethsemane" (accompanying himself on guitar) is now my favorite. As Judas, James T. Justis has even more to do and the versatility to do it. His death deserves a place among Bel Canto's best mad scenes, while Jenna Rubaii's voice captures Mary Magdalene's sweetness to tearful effect. Unusually, the Pharisees injected humor into their sinister corruption. Alvin Crawford demonstrated much more range than is common for Caiaphas' bass, while remaining delightfully subterranean when suggesting "a more permanent solution." Paul Louis Lessard's Herod provoked cheers and laughter before he even sang a note.

Kelly Rogers Flynt, BroadwayWorld:

This tour is headlined by Aaron LaVigne as Jesus, James T. Justis as Judas, and Jenna Rubaii as Mary. This powerful trio led the way for establishing the narrative and tone of the show. LaVigne draws you in with a slow, easy manner and then builds his character through connections with others. His rendition of Gethsemane leaves no question as to who is the superstar. Justis's performance is the driving force of the show. From setting the stage to posing pertinent questions, he provokes the audience into engaging in his dilemma. His performance forces the audience to see more than one side of Judas. Rubaii as Mary is the breath of the show. When tension is building, her very presence is like a salve. Perhaps because her songs are more country rock than hard rock, but whatever the reason, Rubaii's songs and voice have the most heart. Together these three make a formidable team to lead a solid cast on the epic journey of this show.

Golden Gate Theatre - San Francisco, CA

Steve Murray, BroadwayWorld: Right from the searing opening guitar riff, this production pays homage to the historic 1971 Album of the Year, part rock, part theatrical camp and majestic opus. The 11-piece orchestra under the musical direction of Shawn Gough is just as much a character as any actor and they bring the vibrant score to life. The show, while excellently staged, does seem more like a concert, with characters holding hand mikes and Jesus strumming on a guitar.

Meghan Harvey, PopWrapped: I was so happy to have this remarkable cast serve as my welcome back to Broadway! Aaron LaVigne's Jesus, James T. Justis as Judas, and Jenna Rubaii as Mary Magdalene were spot on with their interpretations of their roles, while Alvin Crawford's Caiaphas and Tyce Green's Annas stole the stage every time they were on it, Paul Louis Lessard's maniacal Herod was perfection. But in my humble opinion it is Tommy Sherlocks' Pilate who stole the entire show.

Jay Barmann, SFIST: The extremely talented Aaron LaVigne and James T. Justis take on the roles of Jesus and Judas, respectively - and in some ways, Judas is the central figure in the story, being the narrator of this telling of Jesus's last seven days before his death by crucifixion. (Controversially, Webber and lyricist Tim Rice decided to end their story before the resurrection, because this take ends with Judas's death by suicide.) Justis has a powerful and terrific voice, and he harmonizes well with LaVigne's stratospheric rock-tenor chops.

Gabe Meline, KQED: Judas (James T. Justis), the great betrayer, brings the most pathos to the show; you believe his inner torment over selling out Jesus to Caiaphas. As Mary, Jenna Rubaii sings a perfectly serviceable "I Don't Know How to Love Him," the song of a thousand community college auditions. Annas (Tyce Green) is played as a cross between the singer for Greta Van Fleet and that one guy who quoted Monty Python nonstop in your high school cafeteria. Herod (Paul Louis Lessard) is the prissy comic relief, obviously inspired by Hamilton's King George.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Costa Mesa, CA

Michael Quintos, BroadwayWorld: Along the way, this fascinating hybrid of a rock opera arena concert, a Sunday morning modern-hipster MegaChurch service, and some, I suppose, after-thought musical theater-izing (yes, I made up that term), this JCS iteration mesmerizes the audience with high-budget music video production values, beautiful modern choreography (courtesy of Drew McOnie) and bombastic vocal stylings that mish-mashes various musical genres like pop, rock, alternative, R&B, and, of course, gospel.

Rachel Golkin, New University: Aaron LaVigne is remarkably human as Jesus Christ. Rather than portraying Jesus as the pinnacle of goodness and mercy, LaVigne is rough around the edges and often feels weary of his duty and conflicted about his sacrifices. The tension between his fear and his desire to do what's right climbs to a breaking point in "Gethsemane," as he guides us vocally through Jesus's final prayer before his arrest. LaVigne powers through the heavy metal ballad with gut-wrenching emotion, eventually soaring into a gritty and piercing falsetto that tapers off into a tortured growl as he resigns himself to his fate.

Christopher Trela, Newport Beach Independent: There are no weak links in this rocking chain. It moves like a thoroughbred racehorse assured of victory. And it is indeed victorious-the opening night audience gave the show a well-deserved standing ovation. It seems the light at the end of the Covid tunnel is getting brighter day by day, show by show.

William C., Stage and Cinema: The fantastic character performances in smaller roles included different rock persona presented in delightful ways. Paul Louis Lessard's Elton John-esque over-the-top King Herod strutted down a flattened cross on his 3-inch high-heeled boots and golden cloak, earning him a raucous ovation. Tommy Sherlock's Pilot captures a punk rock personality (Billie Joe Armstrong mixed with a little Adam Lambert) while his emotional vocal range and diction made his songs come off with precision and clarity.

Marcus Center For The Performing Arts - Milwaukee, WI

Christina McAlister, Shepherd Express: Jenna Rubaii's voice captured the tender character of Mary Magdalene which had the audience tearful during "I Don't Know How To Love Him." After a series of serious and emotionally raw scenes, Paul Louis Lessard (Herod) has the audience laughing and cheering before having to sing a single note. A clear audience favorite, Lessard livens the mood with platform heels, long eyelashes, and a black-and-gold bodysuit.

Emerson Colonial Theatre - Boston, MA

James Sullivan, The Boston Globe: Though it took a while for the touring cast to find their way on Thursday night, they rose to the occasion. COVID cases had resulted in substitutions in a couple of key roles. But by the time Pontius Pilate - played by Liverpudlian Tommy Sherlock as a kind of punk-rock autocrat - purposefully dropped the mic as he dismissed the Messiah figure, the swagger was real.

Clowes Hall - Indianapolis, IN

The Marriage Matinee, BroadwayWorld: There is one word to describe this production of Jesus Christ Superstar: powerhouse. Everything about the performance made it both unique and remarkably respectful of this show's historic roots.

Scott L. Miley, The Herald Bulletin: This touring production rocks loud and brash so you'll be glad if you remember the lyrics. The occasionally shredding guitars, sax and orchestra tend to drown out some singers, but not Cincinnati resident Aaron LaVigne as Jesus, who offers a well-enunciated tenor and piercing screams of heartfelt pain as well taking the stage solo for the show-stopping emotional conflict of "Gethsemane."

Tierra Carpenter, WISHTV: Appealing to both theater audiences and concert music fans, this production pays tribute to the historic 1971 Billboard Album of the Year while creating a modern, theatrical world that is uniquely fresh and inspiring.

PPAC - Providence, RI

Frank O'Donnell, What's Up Newp: Aaron LaVigne plays Jesus in this production, and he is superb. He's got the vocal chops to handle the range required. When he sings "Gethsemane," one of the show's toughest songs, he hits the high notes with ease. And he plays his plugged-in acoustic guitar as he sings. His is more a rock voice than a Broadway voice, which helps keep the show true to the original album.

Playhouse Square - KeyBank State Theatre - Cleveland, OH

Roy Berko, BroadwayWorld: Aaron LaVigne effectively underplayed the role of Jesus. Omar Lopez-Cepero left a clear image of a philosophically tortured Judas. Tommy McDowell was impressive as Peter. The entire cast had strong singing voices and carried out the complicated choreography with ease.

Zachary Lewis, Cincinnati native Aaron LaVigne is remarkable in the title role. He nails every note, no matter how high, and often accompanies himself or the onstage "crowd" on guitar. To his portrayal he brings intense vocal energy and pathos, dazzling the ears and yanking heartstrings in the same long breath. His comfort in the role is obvious, but so too is the discomfort. He's right there with us on the tragic journey.

Kennedy Center - Washington, DC

Roger Catlin, BroadwayWorld: A solid Omar Lopez-Cepero sets the stage as Judas, voicing his concerns ("Listen Jesus, I don't like what I see"), alongside that familiar stinging guitar. He'd get the last word, as well, in the show's title song, with its sly observations ("If you'd come today, you would have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication").

Thomas Floyd, Washington Post: It is worth noting that audiences can see Jesus and Mary get a more inspired treatment some 20 miles up the road at Olney Theatre Center, where the world-premiere musical "A.D. 16" is packed with R&B earworms, a subversively funny book and, notably, audible lyrics. But this iteration of "Jesus Christ Superstar" does deliver the unabashed thrill of blasting early Webber showstoppers - such as the toe-tapping "What's the Buzz" and the grandiose "Superstar" - into the audience's eardrums. Even if newcomers won't be converted into believers, "Jesus Christ Superstar" groupies should enjoy being along for the ride.

Peter Orvetti, MD Theatre Guide: Sheader has Aaron LaVigne lean in to the rock-concert motif with his portrayal of Jesus, a winking pop star smiling at his adoring fans in the first act, and a troubled hard rocker in the second. LaVigne is far stronger, as he struts his messianic stuff in the early scenes, than in the latter part of the show. Omar Lopez-Cepero is more consistent, but less interesting, as Judas. His portrayal of the character who is the true heart of "Superstar" is competent, but changes little throughout the story, even as Judas becomes angrier and more defiant.

Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Center - Fort Myers, FL

Dave Elias, NBC2: Jesus is played brilliantly and with dignity by Actor Aaron LaVigne who pours all of his energy into the "Gethsemane" scene and Judas played impactfully by Actor Omar Lopez-Cepero and the biblical Mary Magdalene is portrayed by Actress Jenna Rubaii who delivers a beautiful and strong version of "I Don't Know How To Love Him."

Music Hall at Fair Park - Dallas, TX

Emily Short, BroadwayWorld: Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of Judas's betrayal of Jesus Christ, but it's not the same narrative you might have heard. This inventive musical humanizes both characters and invites the audience to witness their thoughts and experiences behind closed doors, putting their flaws and triumphs on display. If you believe this is a tale that doesn't need to be told, I beg of you to remember this-it is art, an incredibly effective vehicle for inquiry. This piece of art doesn't require you to accept its story as the truth; it simply invites you to ask the question, what if?

Peace Center - Greenville, SC

Paul Hyde, Greenville Journal: Perhaps the show has always been something of a hard-charging rock concert in costumes, but that quality is emphasized here by a guitar-carrying Jesus. He and other actors also grab hand-held microphones to deliver their songs. The band, meanwhile, thunders on stage, not in the pit. For some audience members, these concert-like elements may undermine the show's theatricality, but I found director Timothy Sheader's staging to be electric.

Eccles Theatre - Salt Lake City, UT

Tyler Hinton, BroadwayWorld: The rock vocals of the leading cast are astounding, with magnetic performances from Aaron LaVigne as Jesus and Omar Lopez-Cepero as Judas. Jenna Rubaii as Mary and Tommy McDowell as Peter introduce a welcome softness that offsets the animosity.

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Gephardt Daily: Aaron LaVigne stars as a conflicted Jesus, with followers not always understanding his message, and with the knowledge that his time is short. LaVigne reveals the guarded character through his interactions with others, and builds to his heart-rending "Gethsemane," through tenor vocals that range from deep and smooth to gritty and growly. His voice is his instrument, and he's a master musician.

Pioneer Center - Reno, NV

Owen Bryant, ThisIsReno: Reminiscent of the recent live televised production starring John Legend, the cast performed in a looming industrial setting which provided different levels for the band to play, and for the actors to climb. Their costumes were equally reminiscent, as most were garbed in loose-fitting gray harem pants, tank tops and hoodies. Anachronism has long been a staple of this show, and this production is no exception.

Adrienne Arsht Center - Miami, FL

Aaron Krause, Theatrical Musings: Speaking of him, Aaron LaVigne's human, relatable Jesus exudes peace, sincerity, and humility. When necessary, LaVigne amps up the intensity, while still believably conveying emotions such as irritation and anger. Playing such emotions enhances Jesus's humanity, as does the everyday clothes he wears (Tom Scutt designed the costumes). As Jesus, LaVigne wears a man-bun. This enhances the character's individuality. It is hard to watch Jesus at the end of the show. That is when a bloodied, glitter-splattered Jesus, on all fours, tries to move but can barely do so.

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts - Orlando, FL

Aaron Wallace, BroadwayWorld: The production certainly looks like something of this century, with a set comprised of catwalks and high-beam steel, while Jesus himself rocks a man bun so bulbous he could lead any modern-day megachurch. There's a Hillsong sensibility to all the hairstyles and costumes, with just a touch of Adam Lambert-esque glam rock for good measure.

Andy Haynes, Attractions: "Jesus Christ Superstar" has always been a show that lives and dies on the talent of the performers, particularly those playing the demanding high tenor parts of Jesus and Judas. In this production, the standout is Omar Lopez-Cepero as Judas, who commands attention whenever he appears on stage.

Orpheum Theatre - Memphis, TN

AniKatrina Fageol, BroadwayWorld: As it is a rock musical, some of the lyrics are very difficult to understand. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the powerful voices the tour brings to the Orpheum. Aaron LaVigne's "Gethsemane" where Jesus is asking God why he has to die, is emotionally shattering. Opening night gave us a treat, with understudy Jenny Mollet portraying the role of Mary Magdalene, who sang the iconic "I Don't Know How To Love Him" in a lovely and soothing timbre. Her dulcet tones were complete opposite from Omar Lopez-Cepero's Judas, who opens the show with the jarring "Heaven on Their Minds". Lopez-Cepero's high notes never disappoint and the chemistry between him and LaVigne is captivating to watch.

Cadillac Palace Theatre - Chicago, IL

Dennis Polkow, New City Stage: Part of what makes the climax so crushing is that we have come to know Jesus (Aaron LaVigne). This is a Jesus with bright eyes and a blonde man-bun who comes off young and naive, at first indistinguishable from those following him. He carries a guitar, as do many of the characters. He's long and lanky, a tad Pete Townshend-ish. In fact, after one of the most heartfelt and intense traversals of "Gethsemane" imaginable, complete with summoned shrieks and screams, it would not have been a surprise if Jesus had smashed his guitar.

Catey Sullivan, Chicago Sun Times: In the 50th anniversary staging of "Jesus Christ Superstar" running through July 31 at the Cadillac Palace, that overture hits like a bolt of adrenaline. Howling strings are layered with an insistent synthesizer. A fanfare of battle-of-Jericho-worthy brass broadens and deepens the sound. A ruthless percussion drives the sonic themes that hurtle the 90-minute story from adulation to crucifixion.

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