BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Rochester Broadway Theatre League
There is perhaps no greater contributor to the musical theatre art form than Andrew Lloyd Webber (Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, etc.), and perhaps no more generation-defining contribution than Jesus Christ Superstar. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Rochesterians can once again be reminded why this stylish musical is iconic and timeless.
Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, follows Jesus (Aaron LaVigne) in the weeks leading to his crucifixion and death, largely told through the lens of Judas Iscariot (James Delisco Beeks), Mary Magdalene (Jenna Rubaii), and his disciples. Narratively the show blends Biblical events-the Last Supper, the judgements of Pontius Pilate (Tommy Sherlock) and King Herod (Paul Lewis Lessard), and the crucifixion-with more interpersonal embellishment, like struggles between Judas and Jesus and a love interest between Jesus and Mary. Superstar also explores lesser-told and sometimes divisive elements of the gospel, like the depiction of Jesus' followers as a cult and even, perhaps, whether Jesus was actually the Messiah or, as Tim Rice controversially put it at the time of the show's debut, "simply the right man at the right time at the right place."
Even 50 years after its Broadway debut, the raw power of this show still can't be understated. A blend of hard rock, R&B, soul, and even country, the music of Superstar is dynamic and all-encapsulating, taking the audience on a ride from the shreddy overture to the groovy "What's the Buzz" to the emotional "I Don't Know How to Love Him." For me personally, the apex came toward the end with Mary and Peter's "Could We Start Again, Please", which features soaring, lush harmonies. The power of the band is amplified by their elevated placement on stage, rather than in the pit below.
Showing no signs of tour fatigue, this production's cast delivers a high-energy performance for the full 90 minute intermission-less runtime; no easy feat, given that Superstar is an extremely athletic musical, featuring near-constant dance, singing, and action. While the cast as a whole is superb, Beeks' Judas steals the show. Judas is one of the most demanding roles in the modern theatre canon, a character with an enormous vocal range, myriad belting solos, and the full emotional spectrum. Beeks is gritty and raw and amazingly present on stage. Also fantastic is Caiaphas (Alvin Crawford), one of the main antagonists of the show, a high priest who sees Jesus as a threat to the nation. His stoicism and rumbling baritone are a marvel.
The show's only flaw, at least on the night I was in attendance, is the imbalanced sound mix, which sometimes caused the actors to be drowned out by the band and special effects. An easily forgivable sin (ha, ha) that isn't uncommon on opening night when the technical crew are still getting accustomed to the venue's acoustics.
Not many musicals stand the test of time quite like Jesus Christ Superstar, and this 50th anniversary production perfectly exemplifies why. It's a powerhouse that's just as alive and emotionally charged as it was in 1970, with music and characters that defined a generation back then that are still legendary today.
Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at the Auditorium Theatre until February 23; for tickets and more information, click here.