Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Shines at Kensington Arts Theatre

By: Nov. 10, 2015
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"What's the buzz? Tell me what's-a-happening?"
Anyone familiar with JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-lived rock musical, will find those lyrics familiar. And the buzz, in my opinion, is that an excellent production of the musical is showing now through November 21 courtesy of the Kensington Arts Theatre in Maryland.

Full disclosure: SUPERSTAR is a personal favorite of mine, but whether the show is as familiar to you as it is to me, or whether you know nothing about it, this high quality performance is not to be missed. The youthful company is abounding with talent and delivers vocal performances that are quite simply stunning.

Despite the title of the show, the real star is quite possibly Judas Iscariot, the conflicted follower of Jesus who both betrays him and clearly holds him in great esteem. Ryan Burke (also the assistant director) as Judas holds nothing back as he powerfully portrays the wide range of emotions his part requires, and his final number, Judas' Death, is deeply moving.

Not to be overshadowed, though, is Burke's co-star Jesse D. Saywell, who as Jesus also has the monumental task of singing and acting his way through a complex and heavy storyline. Rogers and Hammerstein it is not, and Burke and Saywell both put their impressive vocal skills to use with many "rock and roll" embellishes.

The Kensington Arts Theatre, located in the Kensington Town Hall, is intimately sized, but scenic designer James Raymond makes full use of it, with a screen in the background showing different scenery while stone-like alcoves on either side of the stage allowed characters to fade in and out thanks in part to the skillful lighting design of Ryan Roberge.

I have listened to my Original London Cast CD so often that it was interesting and welcome for me to hear the differences in the orchestra's commendable interpretation of Webber's haunting score. Music director Stuart Weich should be applauded, along with choreographer Nick Carter, who favored an understated approach when it came to the minimal dancing in the show.

Kim Murphy as Mary Magdalene shone particularly in Could We Start Again, Please - a moving number which is not featured on the cast album at all - and one that showed off her acting ability more to me than the more famous I Don't Know How to Love Him.

The outstanding singing and acting ability of the entire cast far outreached my expectations, reminding me that community theater is a broad term. The last time I attended a community theater performance, by a group in Virginia that I will leave unnamed, the program stated that it was the first time several of the performers had ever attempted acting or singing, and to put it kindly, it showed.
Such is far from the case when it comes to the cast of the Kensington Arts Theatre's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Most are working on or have theater degrees, along with many impressive regional and national acting credits.

The Washington, DC area is fortunate to have such high-quality community theater available, and I look forward to attending future productions.
But in the meanwhile, don't miss out on this wonderful show!