A Thrilling, Definitive, Layered JCS Like You’ve Never Seen Before…
Jesus Christ, what a show JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR can be with Des McAnuff at the helm!
Quoted above are lyrics from one of the show’s early songs, “Everything’s Alright”. In the several productions of JCS I’ve seen since my hippie days, this interchange was used to present Judas’ criticisms of the wrong course onto which he felt Jesus had strayed.
In the new revival at the Neil Simon, it’s also used to begin a battle/ competition between Mary Magdalene and Judas that continues until the crucifixion scene.
I was channel-surfing and came across Tim Rice doing an interview. He was talking about Superstar and he described the story as a love triangle. I thought I knew the story well. But somehow when he said that, I saw the story in a different way and very vividly….Des McAnuff
Mary and Judas are real people, one protecting Jesus, the other about to betray him. McAnuff puts them on stage in many scenes in which they neither sing nor say a word, but through their reactions, their malevolent glances at each other, we can feel the tensions and divisions that would bring Jesus to the cross.
In other words, the actors in this JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR production really act their parts. I believed them all – Jesus very much included – believed them as people, which pulled me into a familiar story that suddenly had untold layers I’d never before seen.
I find it hard to point at any one production element as the best of them all, but if I had to choose one, it would be the acting. Most musical performers are more singers than actors, but every one of this JCS cast is a true actor, and a fine one.
Could it be most directors of musicals just don’t attach much importance to the acting?
The three leads – Jesus (Paul Nolan), Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy), and Judas (Josh Young) – originated their roles in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production, and they are marvelous. That is, the two I saw were marvelous: Josh Young didn’t play that performance, but his understudy, Jeremy Kushnier, was as fine as I could imagine anyone could be in the part.
Paul Nolan’s Jesus wears from the beginning a cloak of weariness, a resignation to a fate he sometimes seems to look forward to. He carries the worries of the world on his shoulders: his messianic movement is unraveling; his death may bring it back together; and it’s all according to plan, anyway.
Nolan makes you see Jesus as a man, which is what I believe Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had in mind when they wrote JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
Chilina Kennedy’s is by many leagues the best Mary Magdalene I’ve seen. At one point, during the reprise of “Everything’s Alright”, as she sings…Yes, everything’s fine…, she looks into the distance with an expression of worry that makes clear she doesn’t believe everything’s fine. Ms. Kennedy uses that sort of nuance throughout, whether or not she’s singing.
And Jeremy Kushnier can play Judas for me any day. He got an ovation in the curtain call, as understudies of major parts often do, but he’d earned it with his performance. Judas the doubter. Judas who lectures Jesus on what he should be doing and isn’t. Judas the betrayer. Judas who doesn’t turn down the bag of silver.
…and if you want a hard candy, or a lozenge to sooth your throat, go ahead and unwrap it anytime: the score will drown you out….Pre-show announcement
McAnuff said in an interview they went back to the original orchestrations, which have a strong rock sound.
Yes, the music is loud, but it’s meant to be. All the voices were strong and confident, beautiful when intended, menacing when intended, and that pit band sure could play! Lloyd Webber and Rice’s music have never sounded better.
The designs – sets by Robert Brill, costumes by Paul Tazewell, Lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Steve Canyon Kennedy – are uniformly strong, again providing a kind of stylized reality to the story. I especially admired the projections and Times Square-like moving news text designed by Sean Nieuwenhuis.
Lisa Shriver’s choreographer is exceptional.
In my preview of spring musicals, I questioned the producers’ (The Dodgers and The Really Useful Group) decision to again revive a show that hadn’t drawn much in its 2000 incarnation, and wondered if such a show simply worked better back in its original days.
As to the first question, the producers knew, and I didn’t, what an exceptional production they were bringing in. Man, was their’s ever the right decision.
As to the second question, I was totally wrong. This production works better than it ever did before, and its power doesn’t come from its relevance to the 60s/70s, but from its relevance to today.
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing a review more than I have this one. Thinking back on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR isn’t as good as being there, but even just thinking about it is a joy.
Rating (5 stars possible): *****
The bottom line: Go see it
Who should go? You should
Do I recommend it?