BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Lyric Opera Of Chicago
If you've ever wanted to rock out in a historic opera house, look no further than JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In a bold departure from the American classics typically staged during the spring "Broadway at Lyric" series, Lyric presents the North American premiere of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera, which won an Oliver Award for Best Musical Revival in 2016. This programming not only brings fresh talent to Lyric's stage - with 34 cast members making their Lyric debut - but is likely to draw new audiences to the Civic Opera House as well.
The cast is led by powerhouse singers in the principal roles, supported by a stellar ensemble, along with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and an onstage rhythm section. As Jesus, Heath Saunders delivers stunning vocals in numbers such as "Gethsemane" and gives an impassioned performance throughout the trial, whipping, and crucifixion scenes. Ryan Shaw is equally impressive as Judas, whose betrayal of Jesus and subsequent guilt feature prominently in Webber and Rice's version of the biblical source material. In a soothing contrast to the rock numbers, Jo Lampert lends her rich voice to Mary's quieter ballads.
Despite these strong performances, the sound mixing unfortunately renders many of the lyrics unintelligible, to an extent that the action can be difficult to follow for a newcomer. In fairness, as director Timothy Sheader explains in the program notes, he envisions the production not as a linear narrative, but as "a cross between a dance concert and a music gig." Lee Curran's lighting design, which certainly evokes a rock concert, and energetic choreography by Drew McOnie enhance this effect. The production is visually striking, with selective splashes of color - including an abundance of gold confetti - to contrast the industrial set design and gritty, modern costumes (both designed by Tom Scutt).
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is exciting new territory for Lyric, and - if one lets go of the details of lyrics and plot to enjoy the overall experience - there is plenty to dazzle the senses.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR runs through May 20 at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606. Tickets are available at lyricopera.org, jcsuperstar.org, or 312-827-5600.
Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg