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Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Turns 50 at Clowes Memorial Hall

The 50th anniversary production is on-stage for a limited time only!

Jesus Christ SuperstarThe 1970's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and the anniversary tour is currently at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis. This iconic musical has always been one of our favorites, and we've have lost count of how many times we've seen it. This touring production exceeded every one of our very high expectations. While it remained true to the original version, some contemporary tweaks brought it to a new level of greatness.

Celeste:

There is one word to describe this production of Jesus Christ Superstar: powerhouse. Everything about the performance made it both unique and remarkably respectful of this show's historic roots.

The sound design for this production pays homage to The Brown Album in all the best ways. It embraces that authentic sound and doesn't attempt to overdo the magic of the music with a bunch of distractions or additions. The music itself is what made this show an icon before it ever hit the stage, and the music is front and center from beginning to end. Major kudos to the instrumentalists for bringing their craft to the stage.

The ambiance and just overall feeling of the show was unified in every possible visual way. The costuming was simple but effective. The lighting created intense and almost cinematic moments at pivotal points in the show. There was a touch of rock concert lighting, but it never detracted from the story that's unfolding. Everything was in balance. I especially appreciated the attention to detail in the set design and subtle costuming/effects choices. There were so many places where the shape of the crucifix was drawn out in different ways. The use of glitter and metallics was also interesting. It gave the show this wonderful mixture of glam rock and grit that drew out the symbolism of what was happening in the action of the scene. It was a highly effective and daring choice, and I applaud that creative but also purposeful thinking.

Once I settled into the scenes and all that they entail, I got to savor the incredible vocal talent. With a show that is this well-known, it's difficult to stand out, honor the original, and not make any part a caricature. But this cast has discovered the alchemy to make it all work together and never once take you out of the narrative.

It's hard to choose only a few standouts among this cast because they are collectively so exceptional, especially when they join together as an ensemble. However, I took especial joy in listening to some of the soloists.

One I particularly appreciated was Tommy Sherlock as Pilate. He made provocative vocal choices that told the story of his character. He showed an emotional depth through his slightly rough and deeply impassioned delivery and made that meld between music and character incredibly tight so everything worked in harmony.

I was also drawn in by Jenna Rubaii as Mary. I could feel in every choice she made, both musically and physically, that she was working through her journey as a disciple and as a person of faith. That kind of nuance can be difficult to catch, but she found her moments every time.

Finally, I was captivated by Sarah Parker in the more symbolic role of Mob Leader. Her physicality gave her such a presence on the stage and created even more room for thought-provoking moments in an already reflective show. If you wait for her featured moments throughout the scenes, you begin to see how the people around Jesus ebbed and flowed, pushed and pulled in ways that couldn't be controlled or stopped. It was fascinating to watch.

Dylan:

This 50th anniversary touring show of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical is established from a popular 2016 revival designed for an outdoor theater in Britain.

Shorn down to an intermission-free length, it reminded me that Lloyd Webber's music ultimately connects with the audience more than most of his Broadway songwriting associates when it came to Superstar's visceral music styling. An 11-piece band was scattered across the second level of the modern industrial designed set, and the band solidified that the music acted as the 13th apostle and doesn't betray anyone.

As the show progressed, unique lighting design by Lee Curran and the well-choreographed (Drew McOnie) chorus of up to 20 performers at a time really gave the audience a sense of foreboding and dismay. We know nothing is going to end well here, but we're carried along, nonetheless.

While they stayed true to the original, this production had some out-of-the-box additions and took some creative license with the show. While every JCS show does this, this one was especially interesting and made it fresh. For example... a crucifixion scene might be the first time a staging employed a power drill.

There are more than a few Broadway credits in the cast bios as well, which isn't common for a road show and that level of professionalism was visible across the entire stage. Aaron LaVigne's Jesus was the traditionally hesitant messiah for most of the show, and wrestling with a bulky microphone stand was about as emotional as LaVigne seemed to get until singing the momentous "Gethsemane" and his persona and performance really emerged. As Judas, Eric A. Lewis was an impactful, yet uneasy, tour guide through the events. Lewis's singing satisfied with his upper range when briefly re-purposing the phrase "I Don't Know How to Love Him," greatly impressing. Jenna Rubaii was a charming, even melancholy presence in her numbers as Mary. Also impactful as evil high priests and engaging actors were Alvin Crawford and Tyce Green.



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