Director Mike Harsh’s concept to set Hagerstown Community College’s Jesus Christ Superstar in a modern day Syrian-esque refugee camp gives the show a renewed immediacy that grips the audience right from the start. As the ominous chords of the overture rumble, apostles shuffle and huddle in the shadows as machine guns erupt around the theater.
The well known story of Jesus Christ’s final days (with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice) unfolds chillingly against this timely backdrop, complete with warlord Romans and gun-toting militant Pharisees. Robin Shaner’s costume design utilizes drab colored desert fabrics against the minimal but clever set.
Music Director Joseph Marschner evokes an angelic choral sound from his large student ensemble, but also conjures all of the necessary fury with his skilled four-piece rock combo. The band is front and center, but manages a fine balance with the voices.
Marlena Devón owns the role of Judas, with powerful and electrifying vocals, as well as dance ability that is utilized to dramatic effect by Choreographer Alyssa Little. Devón’s Judas provides the emotional center of the production. Her high-energy rendition of “Superstar” was the face melting moment of the show.
As Jesus, Hunter Daugherty delivers smooth and soulful rock tenor vocals, most notably in his touching “Poor Jerusalem.” He eventually cuts loose in “Gethsemene” with a thrilling Dio-like growl. Ashlie Monn brings a worldly calm and Madonna-like beauty to Mary Magdalene.
Other standouts include Willie Fox’s soaring voiced Simon Zealotes, and Sam DeJesus’s show-stopping tap dancing King Herod. Dancer Adia Pacheco is unnerving as a demonic Tormentor visible only to Judas. Marquis Allgood makes an intimidating Caiaphas.
Though the HCC production only runs one weekend, these talented students may take pride in the fact they did more than rekindle a classic rock opera. They created transformative art that Brecht himself would have applauded.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Jesus Christ Superstar played April 21-23, 2017, at the Robinwood Players performing at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College – 11400 Robinwood Drive, in Hagerstown, MD. For future performances check their website.