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Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at ACT Of Connecticut

The reimagined production is directed by Daniel C. Levine.

Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at ACT Of Connecticut

On Friday, April 1, I had the pleasure of seeing the ACT of CT's unique adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This 1971 musical that is primarily told through music with lyrics by Tim Rice has been redesigned and reinterpreted by the director, Daniel C. Levine, who has incorporated elements of The Handmaid's Tale into this adaptation.

What stands out above all else in the ACT performance of this production is the phenomenal choreography by Sara Brians and the way this talented ensemble cast comes together with precision and synchronicity to master that complex choreography and dazzle the audience. The level of cooperation, hard work, and teamwork from this ensemble cast is evident, and easily makes the ensemble numbers stand out above the others.

For those who saw the ACT's performance of Smokey Joe's Café back in October, we see the return of Kelly MacMillan, the incredibly talented dancer who has the uncanny skill of being able to move at a rapid pace and suddenly stop her motions with sharp precision. In this production, she performs some more amazing dancing that also seems to remarkably defy the laws of motion.

Sound designer Nathan Rubio makes excellent use of sound effects that help create an immersive experience by resonating from locations all around the audience.

The highly skilled live band led by Jeffrey Campos provides accompaniment that enhances the quality of every song. I'm not sure exactly where the band was located, but they were out of the view of the audience, despite their extreme talent being unmistakably present to us all. The band also includes Tom Cuffari, Amy Griffiths, Darlene Kaukoranta, Clyde Daley, Dan Hartington, Al Orlo, Alex Busby Smith, Dennis J. Arcano, and Zach Kampler.

For people who are devoutly Christian, like me, it is important to view this production through the lens by which it is written and intended. This is an artistic poetic-license laden interpretation of Judas Iscariot's perspective of the days leading up to the Crucifixion of Christ. What in parts comes across as heresy is meant to instead be seen as a reflection of the warped and twisted viewpoint of Judas Iscariot, who Satan entered. It is essentially The Screwtape Letters of musicals and is best understood in that context.

Brett Stoelker stars as Jesus, or more appropriately, as Judas' warped view of Jesus. The real Jesus loves us all, knows His own identity, and understands the loving and self-sacrificial purpose of His mission. This interpretation presents Jesus as very stoic and unloving, self-serving, unsure of who he is, unclear on the purpose of his mission, pushy, and devoid of a clear emotional connection to the disciples. As written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, some of the longer high notes shriek in a way that would later be used by Rob Halford of a British heavy metal band ironically named Judas Priest, on the opening note of the Judas Priest song, "Ram it Down." While Judas' false interpretation of Jesus may go through some of the same outer motions and experiences as the real Jesus, this interpretation of Judas' understanding of Jesus presents a Jesus who is deficient of the inward disposition of love.

Caitlin Kinnunen and Avionce Hoyles star as Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot, respectively. Both of those characters also differ from the traditional understandings of them, due to the lens of Judas that they are seen through. Caitlin Kinnunen and Avionce Hoyles both do well in portraying these alternate understandings of their characters.

Judas sings the verses on my favorite musical number in the production, the most well known song, "Superstar," which blends somewhat of a Sly & the Family Stone funk on the verses with what traditionally is more of a church choir sound on the main chorus. In this ACT adaptation, the sound of the chorus is more pop music than church choir. The song asks a similar question to one that Jesus asks His Apostles as we see written in the Bible, "..who do you say I am?" It is a question we all must answer, and the most important question of our lives. Our choice to live in accordance with our answer to that question impacts the course of our lives and our eternal destination.

Some other highlight singing performances were delivered by Ariel Neydavoud as Simon, Randy Donaldson as Herod, and Isaac Ryckeghem as Caiaphas.

Also included in this cast of superstars are Chris Balestriere, Corinne Broadbent, Ben Cherington, Will Stephan Conell, Alex Hartman, Katie LaMark, Marlena Lopez Hilderley, Amber Hurst Martin, Michael McGuirk, Val Moranto, Devin Price, Andrew Stevens Purdy, Daniel Thimm, Cole Wachman, Shea Coughlin and Caitlin Witty, all of whom bring positive energy and emotion to maximize their performances, giving the audience a memorable experience that is clearly a great time for both the audience and this highly talented ensemble cast.

The show does not include or mention the Resurrection, but again, that can be a contributing artistic choice that suggests that Judas is in a state of torment wondering, "Who are You, what did You sacrifice?"

I am unfortunately unfamiliar with The Handmaid's Tale, but for those who are familiar with it, you will likely catch many references and nuances that I did not.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is scheduled to continue to run at the ACT of CT, in Ridgefield, through April 17, 2022. They have a special sensory sensitive performance (mentioned on the website) for those who otherwise may have adverse physical reactions to the strobe light and some other lighting effects. For times and tickets, please go to http://actofct.org or call the box office at (475) 215-5497.



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