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A rock opera brought from London dramatizes Jesus’s last days


When Jesus Christ Superstar first premiered in 1972, it was banned by the BBC for being "sacrilegious." The musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, imagines the last week in the life of Jesus Christ in the form of a sung-through rock opera. Initially, it was released as a concept album because Webber was not able to get funding for a show so unique. The tour currently at DPAC plays into the rock side of the musical, with standing mics and rock voices.

This production originated at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London and won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. It feels very British, even in its dystopian neutral-colored costumes that remind of a National Theatre production. Timothy Sheader's direction brilliantly utilizes the set and the large ensemble to bring the show to life in a way that is part play, part concert.

The story is based loosely around the accounts of the Passion found in the Gospels, but centers around both Jesus and Judas. It presents the figures, and Mary Magdalene, as very human figures with real relationships as Judas struggles with Jesus's rise to fame and ultimately betrJesus Christ Superstarays him. The show asks the audience to come face to face with the cruelty of the crucifixion, substituting glitter for blood, which in no way lessons the impact. It's filled with intentional anachronisms and presents the story somewhat differently than you would hear it in a church.

Sheader utilizes a multistory set with the band visible on the second story, which further emphasizes the musical's rock elements, as do the lighting. The cross imagery, both in the cross set piece and the props used, are brilliant and never feel overdone. But most interesting is the use of standing and handheld microphones which create a sense of performance in a lot of the numbers.

Drew McOnie's choreography is perhaps the star of the show, as he deftly uses the large ensemble to fill the stage and create the mood. The high-energy contemporary dance is mesmerizing and further builds the sort of time period-less world in which the musical lives. The use of standing microphones in the choreography is particularly great in "This Jesus Must Die."

Jesus Christ SuperstarEvery member of the cast is perfectly suited to their role and to the style of music. Aaron LaVigne is authoritative and commanding at Jesus, without ever losing grasp of his humanity. Jenna Rubaii is sensual as Mary and her chemistry with Lavigne is fantastic. Nailing all the high notes, Omar Lopez-Cepero brilliantly brings to life Judas's anguish. Alvin Crawford is fantastic as Caiaphas, with an impossibly deep and booming voice. All of the performers have the right type of voice to handle this music, without stripping it of its rock sound.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is only one act, with no intermission, and the show flies by. It's impressive that it's able to pack so much into such a short amount of time. (I would argue it does more than some musicals do in a full two-act runtime.) This production and this cast are a perfect way to experience the show for the first time or to revisit an old favorite. Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the best shows to travel through DPAC in years.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is at DPAC through June 19. You can find more information and buy tickets here.

Photo Credit: Marc Viscardi


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From This Author - Nicole Ackman

Nicole Ackman returned to her native Raleigh, North Carolina after living in London and New York City. She studied communications and history at Elon University and earned her Master’s in Art... (read more about this author)

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When JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR first premiered in 1972, it was banned by the BBC for being “sacrilegious.” The musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, imagines the last week in the life of Jesus Christ in the form of a sung-through rock opera. The tour currently at DPAC plays into the rock side of the musical.