BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Des Moines Performing Arts: Find out 'What's the Buzz' at the Civic Center
When you hear of a musical turning 50 years old, many think of shows musicals from the golden age of Broadway. Now we are entering a new era were the blockbuster musicals, that have made Broadway what it is today, start celebrating their 50th anniversary. Des Moines Performing Arts is presenting the 50th-anniversary tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's "Jesus Christ Superstar" as part of the Willis Broadway Series. If you don't know what the buzz is about with this production, you will once you see the show.
Whether it is your "Jesus Christ Superstar" for the first time or not, this production is not one you will soon forget. To understand what makes this production unique, you need to take a look at where the production started. This production started at London's Regent Park Open Air Theatre. Regent Park is an outdoor theatre surrounded by trees. So I was interested in how this production would incorporate that feeling from going from outdoors to indoors. I am excited to say the transition was extremely successful and made for a fantastic evening of theatre.
For me, two things made this production's transition successful. The first is the spectacular wooden set designed by Tom Scutt. The openness of the set, along with the greenery, gave me this feeling of the outside brought in. It also allowed for all Lee Curran's concert lighting design to be seen by the audience.
The lighting combined with the cross in the middle of the stage allowed for Timothy Sheader's direction and vision for the show to be visible to the audience. I appreciated that he used the cross to have entrances for many of the characters that would have a higher class than other characters to make their entrances. I also enjoyed how he introduced us to the cast at the beginning of the show, by having them enter through the auditorium and making their way onto the stage. The direction was very layered and was able to find a balance between that told a religious story, as well as a story about how we can build up the idea of who someone is, and can completely turn on them.
Another part of the show that captured my attention from the top of the show was Drew McOnie's choreography. It brought an energy to that started from the top of the show, and continued throughout. What made the choreography fun to watch was how big and intense it was. The choreography was sharped and used the full body. The intensity of the choreography was fun to watch. It made you appreciate how much all the actors on stage were bringing to the show.
While this show was visually exciting to watch, to be successful, it needed a cast that could sing all of Tim Rice's and Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic music. The music in this production is as intense as the choreography. To be successful, it needs actors that have a large vocal range and can bring the emotion needed to bring these characters to life. This cast is full of triple threats from ensemble roles to lead roles, which makes for an unforgettable night of theatre.
With all the actors entering together, it wasn't until the end of the overture that you started to see the actors that would take on the lead roles begin to emerge. The first one we see is Aaron LeVigne as Jesus during the overture and James Delisco Beeks as Judas when he starts to sing. They both have powerful voices that show the full vocal range of both actors. The performances they brought were very nuanced. With both characters, we see the struggles they go through. For Beeks' Judas, we see this in his performance of "Damed For All Time/Blood Money" as we see him struggle with taking the money to betray Jesus or not. "Gethsemene" is where we see LeVigne's Jesus as he faces the horror that is to come with his death. Both performances were moving and powerful.
There were a few additional roles that stood out to me. The first is Jenna Rubaii in the role of Mary. Her smooth and soft singing voice was a perfect fit for the character. Another stand out was Paul Louis Lessard in the role of Herod. His entrance leading up to "Herod's Song" got one of the biggest reactions of the night. His take gives this show a truly modern flair.
Each aspect of the 50th-anniversary tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" is an evening of theatre that takes a classic musical and brings the show to a new generation. Each aspect of the show blends to make a night of theatre that will leave you wanting to talk about the buzz happening on stage. The Des Moines stop of the tour plays through Sunday, January 19. To purchase tickets visit Des Moines Performing Arts website at https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/jesus-christ-superstar/
Review written by DC Felton
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