What’s the buzz you ask? Well Jesus Christ Superstar now playing at the Kensington Arts Theatre of course! Arising out of the tumultuous 1960’s the era of the Rock Opera gave to way for artists expressing themselves and a story through song. Jesus Christ Superstar with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyric by Tim Rice burst into the fledgling genre in 1970. The concept album was soon staged on Broadway in 1971 and was an instant success and became one of the collaborators’ early and most iconic triumphs. Nearly a half century later the formidable Kensington Arts Theatre’s Director Craig Pettinati and Musical Director Stuart Y. Weich give an enviable run at this revivified rock musical.
Set Designer James Raymond uses a simple yet elegant design to bring the audience back to biblical times. The construction is a massive mountainous area surrounding a video scene that takes us visually through Jerusalem, video designed by Multimedia Designer and Producer John Nunemaker. The clean set design allows the colors of the costumes, designed by Eric S. Scerbo, to pop. Though sometimes ill-fitting – the costumes gave the perfect coloring to the setting transforming the stage back in time. My favorite costumes were that of the soul girls (Allie Dreskin, Ashley K. Nicholas, and Clancey Yovanovich,) which was more reminiscent of the 1970s, with its gold sequences and brown mesh fabric. It was fun and light, and perfect for their roles.
While the designs were on-point the singing voices of the performers were astounding. The highlights of the supporting cast came from Gabriel Macedo’s Herod, Claxton Rabb III’s Peter, Christopher Overly’s Simon/Annas, and Grant Saunders as Pontius Pilate. Saunders especially shined in his enthralling rendition of “Pilate’s Dream.” Saunders is an exquisite actor and truly embodied his character. Too often the focus of musical theater is on the vocals and the nuance of the character and expression in the lyrics can be lost. This was far from so in Saunders’ moving performance.
Kim Murphy was stunning on stage as Mary Magdalene and had a voice to match. Her virtuous mezzo voice boomed through theater, and her rendition of the ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was perfection.
Also shinning vocally was Jesse Saywell as Jesus. Saywell hit the highest of notes with a fury that sent shivers down my spine. Saywell also had good command of the stage. His performance of “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” was excellent.
The tour de force performance was delivered by Ryan Burke as Judas. To say his performance was worth the price of admission is an understatement, I have a feeling that before long it will cost much more to see his presence on stage. He is an outstanding actor and is commanding and dazzling in his portrayal of the controversial Judas. I was completely enthralled by his portrayal and his magnificent singing. His stunning delivery of “Judas Death” was sensational.
The striking vocals of this cast blended perfectly with the music direction of Stuart Y. Weich and the playing of his fantastic orchestra.
Kensington Arts Theatre remains true to its history of excellence with this divine production of Jesus Christ Superstar. With its beautiful design and a superb cast to match, I highly recommend a visit to the old Armory before it closes on November 21st.
Running Time: About two hours, with one intermission.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays through November 21, 2015 at Kensington Arts Theatre located in the Kensington Town Hall— 3710 Mitchell Street in Kensington, MD. For tickets call the box office at (206) 888-6642, or purchase them online.