Running at Proctors until April 7th and continuing throughout the country until May 15th

By: Apr. 07, 2024
Jesus Christ Superstar (Non-Equity) Show Information
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In Jesus Christ Superstar (Non-Equity)my two decades of theatergoing experience, I had somehow managed to avoid any and all contact with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, so I was excited to see the 50th Anniversary tour as it stopped in Schenectady. As the lights came down and the first bass note of the overture began to play, the crowd immediately burst into applause and I understood that I was about to experience something truly unique.

The ensemble flew down the aisles in a frenzy and threw themselves onto Tom Scutt’s set, which is reminiscent of a construction site with a cross-shaped runway down the middle, and leapt into the opening number with no holds barred. Within the first few seconds, they’re fully taken over by frenetic choreography by Drew McOnie whose hip-hop inspired techniques perfectly establish the energy of the piece. The sharp, specific movements pair beautifully with the company’s costumes (also by Tom Scutt), all in varying shades of gray which reveal beautiful, flowing shapes as the performers move about the space. All of this happens while Judas sets up the basis of our story, which Elvie Ellis does with such power and pain that we can’t help but anticipate the conflict that will occur later on.

This is a show that’s clearly carried by its music and the cast fully embodies every note of Webber’s score. Elvie Ellis as Judas and Jack Hopewell as Jesus are clearly at the top of their game here, wailing their way through the entirety of the show’s 90 minutes without much of a break for either of them. Jaden Dominique as Mary Magdalene brings a much lighter energy to the score and excellently executes her number “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” though the relationship between her and Jesus feels underbaked to the point where the number feels like it comes out of nowhere. Other notable performers include Alex Stone as Pilate, who owns the stage with a threatening presence and excellent vocal technique, and Alec Diem as Herod, donned in a fabulous gold outfit and makeup that lives somewhere between “glam rock” and “drag queen,” whose song in the second half of the show serves as a highlight.

Much of the show’s design feels as though it’s constantly trying to remind us that the piece we’re watching is a rock opera, with characters toting around handheld mics, mic stands, and musical instruments. When these choices work, they work well! At one point the Pharisees enter carrying staffs which they flip upside down to reveal microphones and integrate into the choreography. In another scene, mic stands are carried out with spearheads attached to them. After Judas betrays JJesus Christ Superstar (Non-Equity)esus for a few silver coins, his hands and forearms become completely covered with silver dust, forcing the audience to reckon with his actions every time he appears with his metallic limbs. Perhaps my favorite visual in the production is during “Judas’s Death” when he flings a wired microphone over the top railing of the set. All of this is brilliantly framed by Lee Curran’s lighting design, which makes us truly feel like we’re witnessing a rock concert.

However, there were also several decisions that detracted from the production. There are stretches where Jesus carries a guitar across his body only to take it off over his head and put it back on several times before it’s ever actually used as an instrument. When it’s finally used during “Pilate’s Dream” it feels like a relief, but only because it seems like a hinderance through the first third of the show. It makes a return during “Gesthemane,” a brilliant number and a highlight of the show, but it begs the question of why the instrument must be carried around when not in use. At the crucifixion, the cross itself is made up of a microphone stand and a folded-up speaker stand, which frankly looks structurally weak and comes across as hokey.

Perhaps most interesting to me as a first-time viewer, however, is that the piece relies HEAVILY on a preexisting knowledge of the source material. As someone who was not raised in the church and who has only a basic grasp on the events of the Bible, I must admit I had a hard time following some parts of the story. I’ll attribute some of this to sound design, as I had trouble making out the sung text at several points in the show, but I was also not helped by the fact that audiences only had access to a digital program and as a result, could not follow along with the list of musical numbers. When I was unsure of who certain characters were supposed to be, it would have been helpful to see that we were on “Herod’s Song” or “Peter’s Denial” just for my own sense of contextualizing the events of the show.

That being said, I couldn’t help being enamored by this production. Everyone onstage clearly brought everything they had to this performance, and at the end I was surrounded by the quickest and most enthusiastic standing ovation I’ve seen in at least a few years. The energy in the room was so electric it could have lit the house at Proctors for years to come.


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