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Review: Jesus Christ, He's Still Got It!

The story says the resurrection occurred three days after His death. Inflate that number to 33 years, and you've hit the mark…at least, if the story in question is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar. Ted Neeley, most noted for starring as Jesus in the 1973 motion picture directed by Norman Jewison, steps into the white linen once again for the Farewell Tour, and still nails it (bad pun intended).

As Webber and Rice's first professional collaboration, Jesus Christ Superstar follows the events of the last seven days leading to Jesus' crucifixion, elaborately woven with staggering rock rhythms and addictive lyrics spanning every inch of the musical scale. Despite second-rate costumes and a disinteresting set-design, this tour production is still chilling and enjoyable, especially for the holidays.

Almost god-like, Ted Neeley's voice sounds just as healthy and incredible as it did decades ago – which is saying something for the stereotypically lack-luster demographic of older actors returning to stage. Maintaining a grounded and unflinching posture, the off-the-chart high belts seem to fly effortlessly from this stage/screen veteran.

One scene in particular, when Jesus challenges God's purpose to have him die, Neeley's "Gethsemane" is unbelievable, emotional and will forever be etched in this critic's memory. Like an electric guitar riff, his voice expertly pierces the air. Where does it come from? And how, after so many years, can he still do it? A touch of divine!

However, while one can over-look Neeley's walk from one lighting cue to another, his choice to mouth words and wave his fingers during moments best left silent and still can be distracting and, at times, comedic.

Neeley and the youthful, vivacious ensemble serve a fine show for the masses. The same cannot be said for some of the other leads.

Corey Glover, lead-singer of Grammy Award-winning group Living Colour, headlines as Judas Iscariot...whose voice has "all gone sour." Glover's betrayal of the music may be worse than his role's betrayal to the savior! Littered with invented notes, swallowed consonants and unintelligible sounds, Glover hinders the storytelling terribly. Especially disappointing was his destruction of the usual favorite "Heaven On Their Minds." Regarding professionalism in acting, Glover found comfort in keeping his back to the audience and chewing gum at curtain call. Additionally, Christine Rea-Briskin, with non-committed pitch and tired movement, does little to help the already thankless and flimsy-written character of Mary Magdalene.

Notable performances included Jeremy Pasha, with excellent diction, as Annas and the striking Larry Alan Coke as Ciaiphas. Jason D. Bush as Simon was (appropriately) zealous to a great, blindly-naïve degree. Aaron Fuksa ushers in the comedy amidst tragedy with his flamboyant representation of Herod, donning a purple and green bathrobe with neon orange crocs, flanked by a quintet of golden courtesans. The twelve apostles' young voices harmonize beautifully similar to a boys' choir. Most of the ensemble scenes were enjoyable, like color-guard-esque choreography during "Hosanna."

For many, the allure of this musical lays neither in its staging or story, but in the music. Some miracle of musical theatre clicked with the pairing of Webber and Rice (who later co-created Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita). Roaring bass, heavy drums and a wailing guitar swims with the two-dozen cast members as they chant, shout and collide in rhythm, creating unforgettable scenes. The howling, pulsating glacier of plague during "The Temple" would give anyone chills – and Rice's unforgiving signature vamp during Judas' death and Jesus' flogging can leave you tear-streaked.

"It takes courage to show emotion and even more to admit to it," confessed Neeley after San Francisco's press show, "Whether you're a believer or not is besides the point. I still cry. After all the times I've played [Jesus], I still do."

Jesus Christ Superstar: directed by Dallet Norris, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice, at the Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco through December 30. 2hrs, 15mins with one 15min intermission. Tickets ($25-$85) are available at 415-512-7770 and www.shnsf.com. The Orpheum Theatre is located at the corner of Hyde and Market at 8th Street in San Francisco. Photos by Joan Marcus. For more information visit www.thejcstour.com.



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From This Author Eugene Lovendusky

Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF (read more...)