BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Popejoy Hall
The 50th anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar updates the much-loved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and modernizes it in a way that makes it more accessible and enjoyable to today's audiences. The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1971, has reached a world-wide audience, with performances in Australia, Europe, and the West End. There have been several filmed versions of the production as well, including the 1973 movie starring Ted Neeley and a more modern retelling of the rock opera in 2000 starring Glenn Carter. Finally, on Easter Sunday of this year, NBC aired a live version of the production starring John Legend as Jesus. The longevity of the musical and the various adaptations that have been made show just how beloved the show has been for decades.
Multiple changes were made with the 50th anniversary tour in order to help establish a new audience for the show along with tried and true fans. While most of the changes helped to enhance the story, some of them fell a little flat. The use of stand mics brought a sense of disconnect between the characters at times, particularly during highly emotional scenes such as Jesus and Judas' confrontation at the Last Supper. Having the two men singing at each other from separate mic stands during the argument lacked the emotional punch that other versions of the show have provided. However, the change of making the characters sort of modern-day rock stars had definite appeal.
The show runs for 90 minutes, with no intermission, which allows the build up from the start of the show to continue its momentum without any interruption. It also seemed to help keep the audience's attention even more focused on the show than they may have been otherwise. The costuming and set design also brought a new life to the production. While the set design by Tom Scutt was sparse - consisting of rafters made to look like roman columns, a runway for actors to stand on to sing or sit on - it gave the impression of the show being set in Rome or Jerusalem while creating an a more modern look along with it. The costuming, also by Tom Scutt, which was a combination of modern loungewear and robes or cloaks that could have been from ancient times, contributed to this as well.
The performances were wonderful, helping keep the audience invested in what was happening onstage. There were a few members of the cast who especially stood out. James Delisco Beeks as Judas gave a raw performance, expressing the conflict Judas felt about betraying Jesus for what he believed was the greater good. Whenever Beeks was onstage, whether he was involved with what was going on or simply standing in the shadows and observing, the audience's attention was drawn to him. His performance of "Damned for All Time/Blood Money" and "Judas' Death" were particularly moving. Beeks gave even more depth to the lyrics by expressing the pain Judas seemed to be experiencing through his facial expressions, body language, and the emotion he put into each note. Tommy Sherlock was a true rock star as Pilate, giving the role an intensity and energy not always seen. His electric guitar playing during "Pilate's Dream" added to this as well. Paul Louis Lessard was incredibly entertaining as King Herod, making the character very glam rock. As Mary, Jenna Rubaii was the heart of the show, trying to be the peacekeeper among the apostles and struggling with her feelings for Jesus ("I Don't Know How to Love Him"). As Jesus, Aaron LaVigne shifted between a pacifist wanting nothing more than his followers to have their needs met and fighting with the Roman authorities, all the while struggling with the position he was in and the role he had to play. "Gethsemene" expressed this perfectly and LaVigne's performance allowed the audience to feel the turmoil and struggle lying beneath Jesus' surface.
The 50th Anniversary Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar brings new life to a classic production. This fast-paced adaptation of the classic rock opera will be a moving and enjoyable evening at the theatre for both new audiences and old fans alike. Jesus Christ Superstar runs from Thursday, October 18th - Sunday, October 20h at Popejoy Hall. Tickets range from $88-$98 and can be purchased online at: popejoypresents.com/2019-2020-season/jesus-christ-superstar or by calling the Box Office at 505-925-5858. They can also be purchased in person at the UNM Bookstore ticket office or the UNM Ticket Office on Bradbury.
image source: Matthew Murphy