Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock n’ roll opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, and the McLean Community Players cast and crew, directed by Kevin and Pamela McCormack, rocks and rolls.
This awesome production is flashy and colorful, loud and entertaining, and ambitious and fun. The musical is based on the final days of Jesus Christ from his arrival in Jerusalem until his crucifixion. It stays faithful to the biblical account of events except with a contemporary style which results in a unique and fascinating telling of this fairly well-known story.
The upbeat, artistic tone of the production was set from the very beginning with the opening few numbers. The ensemble was charismatic and their great energy was a big reason that the music was so catchy. This was especially true during the overture and the number, “Hosanna.”
They were not the only reason that the music was so fun and catchy. Committing to the rock n’ roll style, the musical featured a band instead of an orchestra. Led by Music Director John Edward Niles, the band was captivating and fun. Featuring a guitarist (Rick Peralta), bassist (David Burrelli), drummer (Jim Hofmann), keyboards (Bill Van Lear and Alan Margolis), reeds (Lindsey Williams), and various brass instruments (Ako Shiffer, Curt Nette, and Scott Fridy), the band made the entire show feel like a rock concert.
Of course, this feeling couldn’t have been possible without the glowing voices of the actors and actresses. The three main characters of the play were Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. They were played by Brian Hill, Shaun Patrick Moe, and Anne Norland respectively. Each was really stunning in both their singing and acting.
Norland brilliantly captured the essence of the most emotional character of the production. Additionally, her airy, sweet voice, which first showed forth in her first number, Strange Thing, Mystifying was remarkable as was her rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Moe’s exquisite rock n’ roll voice reminded me of Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC for a while. He also brought forth the energetic charisma so often seen in the great rock n’ roll singers. He pulled off the rock n’ roll style falsetto skillfully and his voice was powerful. He also did a perfect job of showing the internal struggle of Judas. One of the themes of this production is to look at Judas as a figure more complex than simply the evil betrayer of Christ and Moe did a great job of eliciting sympathy and understanding for his character. His performance of
Hill’s ability to capture the intense physical pain that Jesus endured during his crucifixion, highlighted by his dramatic, inconsistent breathing and anguished expression, was excellent. Furthermore, his singing voice was truly spectacular and showed his immense vocal and emotional range.
I wish in the beginning of the show, as in his early numbers like “Everything’s Alright” – that he had let loose a little more when his character furiously breaks up the party during the number “The Temple.” But after that his performance was passionate. He was spectacular in his number “Gethsemane” when he questioned his trust in God, really emphasizing his misery and confusion. He was also wonderful in his number “The Lepers.”
In fact, “The Lepers” was one of the great highlights of the show. During this number, the sick and suffering people all come to Jesus to heal them and he starts to feel overwhelmed. This feeling of oppression is highlighted through the awesome use of lighting. Lighting Designer Lynne Glikbarg turns the stage a spooky shade of green and the band adds some dramatic music. It is a great moment. Glikbarg’s work really added pizzazz to this show, making it visually impressive.
Another essential part of the visual stimulation were the costumes, particularly that of the character King Herod, played by Hans Bachman. During the musical number King Herod’s Song, Bachman emerges in the most bedazzled, spectacular suit I have ever seen. My companion later remarked that Bachman’s costume stole the show. Created by Costume Director Richard Batistelli, the costume was sparkly and reflected light in a thousand different directions. Bachman was a moving disco ball and the effect was fantastic. His number also was had wonderful dancing, but this was true of the entire show. Choreographer Kathleen McCormack did a great job of making the entire show full of non-stop fun dancing.
Adam Strube’s Caiaphus and his wonderfully resonant and powerful baritone voice was incredible. The deepness of the voice, added to the assertiveness with which he played the role was best exemplified during the musical number “This Jesus Must Die.” Batistell put Strube, and the other suspicious and mean priests in grey suits reminiscent of Dr. Evil, the great Austin Powers character.
Pontius Pilate, played by Shawn Cox, possessed a beautiful tenor voice, and he was a commanding force on stage, parading around with great authority and force. Peter and Simon, played by Christopher Dunay and Jack O’Reilly, were both fabulous singers.
Bill Glikbarg’s set design was splendid and innovative. Conventionally, in musical theatre, the orchestra is situated in front of the stage. Glikbarg had other thoughts. The band was situated in the back of the stage. You might think that this took valuable space from the actors and actresses but to solve the issue, Glikbarg created a large wooden structure above them upon which the actors could climb. The result was a great multi-layered stage with two levels of action.
McLean Community Players’ Jesus Christ Superstar is superb! Filled with great acting, dancing, and ingenious design, I highly recommend you see this divine production.
Running Time: 90 minutes, plus one 15-minute intermission.