Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

On the Orpheum stage June 28-July 3!

By: Jun. 30, 2022
Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR  at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

Andrew Lloyd-Webber fans can certainly appreciate the 2021-2022 Orpheum season! Not long after Cats comes Jesus Christ Superstar, a powerful rock musical that centers around the last days of Jesus Christ. The show is actually celebrating its 50th anniversary and brings a completetly different dynamic to the Orpheum stage.

The show itself has an interesting history. For one, it has been banned in many different places for being too "sacrilegious". It actually offended many religious groups. In fact, when Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice came together to share a vision for a daring new rock musical, no producer was willing to take on the project as a stage show. Lloyd-Webber is quoted saying they were told it was "the worst idea in history". Instead, they turned the musical into an 87 minute, 2 disc concept album that was released in 1970. The music quickly became very popular, however, and MCA Records wound up shutting down 21 unauthorized productions in the US to protect the musical rights. The musical opened on Broadway on October 12, 1971 and closed in June of 1973, after 711 performances. Since then, it has gone on to tour around the world and has been made into several different films, the first in 1973 and the second in in 2000. A live concert version of the show, starring John Legend as Jesus, was aired on NBC on Easter Sunday in 2018. Fun fact to note, Norman Jewison, who directed the 1973 film, arranged a special screening for Pope Paul VI, who did give the film a positive review. Ted Neeley (who played Jesus in the picture) recalls the the pope saying "Mr. Jewison, not only do I appreciate your beautiful rock opera film, I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity, than anything ever has before.'"

As it is a rock musical, some of the lyrics are very difficult to understand. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the powerful voices the tour brings to the Orpheum. Aaron LaVigne's "Gethsemane" where Jesus is asking God why he has to die, is emotionally shattering. Opening night gave us a treat, with understudy Jenny Mollet portraying the role of Mary Magdalene, who sang the iconic "I Don't Know How To Love Him" in a lovely and soothing timbre. Her dulcet tones were complete opposite from Omar Lopez-Cepero's Judas, who opens the show with the jarring "Heaven on Their Minds". Lopez-Cepero's high notes never disappoint and the chemistry between him and LaVigne is captivating to watch. Alvin Crawford, Tommy Sherlock, Tyce Green, and Paul Louis Lessard all dazzle as characters that we love to hate, serving as biblical figures involved in Jesus's death. The ensemble is no less delightful to watch, with exhilarating choreography and creating tableaus that we can recognize from the Bible, including the iconic "The Last Supper".

Perhaps one of my favorite things about this show is how human Christ appears. Judas himself discusses this in "Heaven on their Minds" with the lyrics

"I remember when this whole thing began,

No talk of God, then we called you a man".

Ironically, this is one of the reason many people say they are offended by this show. Jesus is relatable as a character, as we can see that he feels the pain and fear and perhaps audiences can relate more to him. Judas, as well, is shown as a friend and is more humanized than we are used to seeing. The entire dynamic of the show is intriguing and the 90 minutes fly by very quickly with a whole lot of action packed in.

I also have to call attention to the set design and lighting design. One of the most powerful images is, of course, Jesus hanging on the Cross while the ensemble remains on a dimly-lit stage, laughing at the dying man. The cross is well lit and there are several other small designs that could be interpretated as crosses as well. It's eerie as well as emotional.

Jesus Christ Superstar rocks the Orpheum stage until July 3rd, so get your tickets today!