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BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Golden Gate Theatre

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Jesus Christ Superstar runs through November 7, 2021.

BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Golden Gate Theatre

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic rock opera celebrates its 50th Anniversary with a spectacular re-staging of the 2017 Olivier Award-winning Best Musical Revival production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Re-imagined through the eyes of director Timothy Sheader (Crazy for You, Into the Woods) and choreographer Drew McOnie (King Kong, Strictly Ballroom) this JCS dazzled with religiously frenetic choreography and wonderful supporting performances.

Right from the searing opening guitar riff, this production pays homage to the historic 1971 Album of the Year, part rock, part theatrical camp and majestic opus. The 11-piece orchestra under the musical direction of Shawn Gough is just as much a character as any actor and they bring the vibrant score to life. The show, while excellently staged, does seem more like a concert, with characters holding hand mikes and Jesus strumming on a guitar.

BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Golden Gate Theatre
James T. Justis (Judas) and Aaron LaVigne (Jesus)

Another major component of this production is Drew McOnie's choreography. In "Heaven on Their Mind," Judas' reproach to Jesus when he feels it all gone sour, he sings "All your followers are blind, too much heaven on their mind" and McOnie moves the ensemble with a blinded fervor like the whirling dervish devotees. It's both feverishly wild and passionately devotional.

JCS was controversial in its day, chastised by Jews for its negative, conniving portrayal of the Pharisees, the gay camp of Herod, and Christians disdain at any secularization or humanizing of JC (think of the stink made about Nikos Kazantzakis' 1955 book The Last Temptation of Christ). Webber and Rice take it all on through their score; Mary Magdalene's semi-romantic fascination with Jesus in "I Don't Know How to Love Him," Judas' portrayal as morally correct revolutionist ("Strange Thing, Mystifying") and the nasty Pharisees consumed with keeping their power and the status quo at the expense of a crazed, expendable prophet ("This Jesus Must Die").

BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Golden Gate Theatre
Eric A. Lewis (Simon) and the company

The leads are all strong, Aaron LaVigne's Jesus, James T. Justis as Judas, and Jenna Rubaii as Mary Magdalene. A sizable portion of the drama is the opposition between Jesus and Judas, and I wanted a little more bite in Judas and a tad more confusion in Jesus. The betrayal in Gethsemane went both ways, the literal handing over of Jesus to the Romans, but also Jesus' inability to further Judas' revolutionary mission.

BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Golden Gate Theatre
The Last Supper

Jesus Christ Superstar is wildly popular for its personal dramatizations of the key characters of the final week of Jesus' life. There are plenty of delicious moments for the supporting cast: Tommy Sherlocks' anguished Pilate, Alvin Crawford's Caiaphas, Eric A. Lewis' Simon, Paul Louis Lessard's maniacal Herod and Tyce Green's Annas. Lee Curran's lighting design presents a dark, hypnotic sinister vibe to the show and Timothy Sheader's direction highlights the hypnotic, perhaps divine aspects of the passion play.

Jesus Christ Superstar's popularity hinges greatly on its humanizing of the divine. Whether you feel it's too fictionalized or possibly factual is up to the viewer. The beautifully crafted musical potently delivers a range of possibilities to ponder.

How To Get Tickets

Jesus Christ Superstar runs through November 7, 2021. Tickets available at 888-746-1799 or at https://www.broadwaysf.com/Online/default.asp.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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