BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Has A Few Surprises at Orpheum
The 50th Anniversary tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR opened at the Orpheum Theatre in Omaha last night with a few surprises. Unlike the plethora of productions performed in the past of this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaboration, this production mixes a rock concert with an aggressive dance troupe resulting in riotous sight and sound. If you weren't awake when you entered the theatre, you were by the first stinging notes of the electric guitar.
Timothy Sheader takes this musical in a direction that is actually a rerouting to the 1970 album that topped the charts. Less about storytelling through dramatization and more about using music and dance to speak for itself, sound plays a critical role. From where I was seated, the sound was probably the best I've experienced in that venue. Co-designers Keith Caggiano and Nick Lidster did a brilliant job of keeping the softer acoustic melodies and raucous rock in balance. The orchestra was split between the sides of the stage, adding to the surround-sound feel. Along with the precise diction of the performers, there was no reason for anyone to lose a single phrase.
What's so great about the music in this show is that you cannot become complacent. Just when you settle in for a relaxing, peaceful number accompanied by acoustic guitar, you are startled out of your revery by crashing notes and blood rushing melodies served up by the impressive vocals of Aaron LaVigne (Jesus) and James Delisco Beeks (Judas). Tommy Sherlock (Pilate) thrills with his on stage intensity and powerful vocals. Then there's the startling contrast between the ultra high tenor of Tyce Green (Annas) and rumbling deep bass of Alvin Crawford (Caiaphas). The ensemble demonstrated fine voices throughout in solo pieces and together in magnificent blended harmony.
Dance is the star of this production. Choreographer Drew McOnie pulls out some interesting maneuvers, often uniting the ensemble in one mass movement. The crowd depicts a mob tendency by grasping one another's hands, mimicking movements, and following each other. Connections are tight. I particularly appreciated the women's sinuous undulations in Everything's All Right and the reaching of desperate hands in The Temple. At times the dancers exert a bit too much energy. People are lifted above heads repeatedly. One solo dancer dances almost maniacally as if she is the personification of evil. But there is storytelling in their body language.
Tom Scutt's scenic, hair and costume designs are laudable. The set is clever and creative. Resembling the boxes on Hollywood Squares, the background serves as the seating for the orchestra as well as an entrance and exit points for the performers. A giant cross lays at an angle on the floor and becomes a runway for the performers. Costumes are dulled down to modern day gray and beige neutral sweats, hoodies, and fluttering pieces of fabric. King Herod, however, sports an ostentatious outfit befitting the flamboyant king. Accenting the costumes are some interesting accoutrements such as plaster Greek masks and circular neck pieces that you might have seen in National Geographic. Hair plaited in Mary's tight braids or pulled into Jesus' man bun give another contemporary touch.
Lee Curran's lighting illuminates Jesus Christ and his white clothing, casts shadows on the faces of the guards, and evokes an eeriness for the dancers. Floodlights arranged in the boxes and in columns between them create tension and alter the mood, but also make me think of football stadiums on a Friday night.
There are so many creative techniques and props. There are cymbals. Hand held microphones are used symbolically as well as practically, such as Judas' mic cord as his noose. Microphone stands become scepters and swords when turned upside down. Others are used as a cross. There are spinning lighted crosses and nunchucks. There's the meaningless of the gold glitter and the brilliance of Judas' silver hands.
Although this story is many centuries old, this retelling is new and fresh. If you are expecting the JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR that you know and love, this is not it. This is a recreation that doesn't lend itself to emotional attachment to any of the characters. That aside, it is a fascinating 90 minutes packed with sight and sound. You won't be bored.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR plays through December 15. www.ticketomaha.com or call 402-345-0606.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy