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Miami’s “We are Proud to Present…” Proudly Presents a Wake-Up Call

Review by Shawn Maus of We are Proud to Present…: Miami University Theatre

The title of the play truly sums up what Miami should be – PROUD!

Jackie Sibbles Frury’s play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia Formerly Known As South West Africa From the German Sudwestafrika Bwtween The Years 1884-1915 is a play about a little known historical tragedy, which has been called the first genocide of the 20th century.  Miami’s production is inventive, impressive and will take your breath away…literally.

The plot of the play centers around how the Germans had a divide-and-rule policy towards  exterminating 80% of the Herero tribe.  Three actors – three black and three white – play actors who are rehearsing a presentation about the near extinction of the Herero tribe.

Even though every word is scripted (I read the play), director Torie Wiggins’ fluid production gives the impression of improvisation. Actors arrive in the stage space that looks like a rehearsal room, going through warmup exercises and being introduced to the “presentation” actors: “Black Man,” “White Man, “Another Black Man,” “Another White Man” and one actor who “actually, we haven’t really explained you yet. And they won’t get it so…just ignore her for right now.”

But you can’t ignore these actors. Wiggins has assembled a transformative cast. Utilizing powerful writing, these courageous actors manage to be comedic and devastatingly poignant while functioning as a tight ensemble. There are no easy answers to the questions the show brings to light. The cast keeps the audience engaged but uneasy. The performances are sometimes chilling.  It would be giving away too much to describe the attention-grabbing intensity towards the end.

Scenic designer Todd Stuart has created a very realistic rehearsal-room set. The projections that keep the audience informed of the play’s chronology are riveting without being distracting. One of my favorite parts of the show was the way it ended. I don’t want to give it away.

Dramaturg Katie Boissoneault notes that, sadly enough, the Herero are still fighting today for a fitting resolution to the tragedy. It’s one of the most powerful, most engaging, most upsetting and most necessary pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

Included in the playbill for the show is a ballot asking the audience to find Germany guilty or not guilty. I don’t think it’s a matter for us to decide. What is for us to decide is if we, in our current “civilized” world, are going to be guilty of repeating this type of presentation of humanity. We need to speak louder than actors. We need to speak to atrocities of genocide, the anger of racial divide. We need to be proud to understand one another’s cultures. I’m proud of Miami University for tackling such an issue, especially given today’s grim events in Parkland, FL and Syria.  We can’t just be generic “white man” and “another white man,” “black man” and “another black man.”

So this play will influence you and make you proud of the tremendous talent Miami University offers on its stage.  I’m so happy that I went to see it, got drawn in with the drama of contrast between humor and horror.  I am proud to say I was educated tonight.

CSC’s Contemporary “Othello” is as Relevant as Ever

Review by Doug Iden of Othello: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

William Oliver Watkins and Courtney Lucien in “Othello”

Shakespeare returned to the Shakespeare Theater with a brilliant but somewhat jarring rendition of the classic tragedy Othello.  After three straight non-Shakespearean plays, it was refreshing to revisit the Bard.

Placed in a contemporary world, Othello, played by visiting actor William Oliver Watkins, tumbles from a war hero to a murderer while being manipulated by Iago (Nicholas Rose).   In the play, Shakespeare explores the poisonous impact of jealousy on people and how it can wreak havoc on their lives.  It is also a brilliant psychological study of duplicity and manipulation as Iago cons several characters into believing total fabrications.

Watkins as Othello transforms well from the strong, noble war hero who defies convention by marrying the daughter of incensed Senator Brabantio (Barry Hulholland) to a man obsessed with the certainty of his wife’s infidelity. Othello seems to value the loyalty and veracity of his troops over the love of his wife.  As Othello increasingly becomes enmeshed in his own rage and perceived assault on his pride, Watkins (as Othello) convincingly spirals into insanity as he rails against his circumstances, writhing on the floor as in a demonic possession.  It is only at the end of the play that Othello realizes that he has been duped by his prized lieutenant and tries to regain his original nobility.

Played with Machiavellian glee, Rose imbues Iago with an unctuous, mocking manner as he seeks revenge on Othello whom he believes tried to seduce his wife Emilia (Miranda McGee).  Iago also feels that he should have received a promotion which was given to Othello’s friend Cassio (Justin McCombs).  Rose struts across the stage as he smugly divulges his insidious plan to the audience and steals every scene he is in.  This is a key role because you must believe that Iago is capable of maneuvering people to his will without their knowledge or the play does not work.

The ultimate target of Othello’s volcanic rage is his wife, Desdemona, portrayed by Courtney Lucien.  Desdemona is alternately, shy and passive, then coquettish,  and finally in mortal terror of her husband. Desdemona and Emilia are friends but are oblivious of Iago’s murderous intentions. McCombs’ Cassio is a bit of an innocent who becomes a mark for Iago’s con and becomes a catalyst when Othello believes he has been cuckolded by his underling.

The play starts a little slowly but the pace certainly accelerates in the second act as the traps which Iago has laid come to fruition and the tragedy roars to its conclusion.

The staging, sets, lighting, costumes and visual effects are anything but traditional. The set, designed by Justen Locke, depicts a stark, dilapidated army barracks with rusting corrugated metal and peeling concrete with wires haphazardly strung along the walls. To add to the eerie, depressing illusion, periodic visual effects are flashed onto the walls showing television news anchors discussing the impending action. Similar illusions are flashed onto the floor showing the effects of a battle.  Half of the characters are dressed in pseudo-military garb with assault weapons while the others are wearing contemporary clothes, all designed by Amanda McGee. The military theme is both disquieting and symbolic since Venice represents a world power constantly at war but often stymied by inactivity. It’s that inactivity which exacerbates the tensions of the characters and, ultimately, allows them to be suborned.

The unusual vision of the play is the brainchild of director Christopher Edwards. The first few minutes of the play may be off-putting but give it a chance and the seeming disparate elements start to work well in tandem.

Othello has always been a controversial show due to its violent depiction of women and its racial content.  However, even though the play is 400 years old, the story could be ripped from today’s headlines.  Othello continues at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater through March 24.  The next production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams runs from April 6 through April 28.

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Thought-provoking “Venus in Fur” Titillates and Tantalizes

Review by Hannah Gregory of Venus in Fur: New Edgecliff Theatre

New Edgecliff sets its production of Venus in Fur in the intimate Hoffner Lodge on Northside’s Hamilton Avenue. An electrically charged cerebral piece by David Ives, the play is served well by this space: a large room with a stairway leading to a church-like balcony. Half of the floor-space is for seating, while the other half serves as the stage; and one of my only complaints is that the layout lends itself to obstructed views.

Venus in Fur opens with Thomas (played by Brandon Burton), a playwright/director wrapping up a day of tawdry auditions for his play Venus in Fur, detailing female actresses’ stupidity and their lack of femininity, cluing the audience in from the very beginning that Thomas thinks he knows women better than they know themselves. Enter Vanda. A stark contrast to Thomas’ exhaustion, Vanda (played by Tess Talbot) is vivacious and energetic, frenetically moving about the space. Though late for her audition, she fights for the chance to read for Thomas. While Vanda initially feigns ignorance to the play’s themes and derivatives, she quickly shows that she is more knowledgeable than she appears. She claims Thomas’ play and its original source, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, is “basically…S&M and porn.” Thomas counters, calling it “a great love story.” Thus begins our conflict.

Vanda ends up reading the script late into the night with Thomas and even challenging the script and writing choices. As Vanda proves herself to be a talented, albeit mysterious actress, the audition continues with the pair reading nearly the entire script and then derailing into improv. We start to get the sense that Vanda already knew what she was doing before she walked in the door. The night continues, with each character giving the other notes and making new discoveries about the characters in Thomas’ play. Many sequences involve lines repetition, which may seem redundant; but the importance is what is happening between these lines–the uncovering of power.

As Kushemski, Thomas asserts,“Every woman wants to be worshipped.” The theme of the all-knowing man rears its ugly head again as we see a man (Thomas) writing a male character (Kushemski) telling a woman what she wants. Vanda wields her power, and fiction and reality begin to blur when Vanda becomes the mythical Venus. This sequence, involving layered character work and a German dialect, shows off Talbot’s malleability and acting chops. Vanda calls out Thomas’ sexist portrayal of women time and time again, alluding to the fact that S&M is only such when both players are consensual. Thomas’ Vanda is blamed and humiliated at the end of his play, which Vanda the actress will not stand for.

During the climax of the play, Vanda becomes more enigmatic and otherworldly than ever. What is her motive, and where did she come from? She turns the play on its axis, moving to portray Kushemski, and once again taking on the dominating role. The play’s ending takes a turn into a mystic realm, so that we never really learn who Vanda is or what she desires; but that’s not really the point of the play anyway. It is a game of cat and mouse, a theatrical literary analysis, and an exploration of gender roles that’s long overdue.

Burton and Talbot do an excellent job with a script that, under poor direction, could have been confusing and over the top. The visual cues of having scripts in hand or not keeps the audience rooted in clarity of whether we are seeing Vanda the actress and Thomas or Vanda the character and Kushemski. It only lets up during the last 5 minutes or so, when the play is left up to interpretation. Director Greg Proccacino’s use of space and vocal nuances are excellent and clear. Scenic and costume elements are simple but effective, serving a piece that’s main feature is its dizzying and dazzling dialogue. My advice? Drink a cup of coffee before you see this. You’ll want to pay attention to every word and exchange to keep up.

New Edgecliff’s Venus in Fur runs at the Hoffner Lodge through March 17. Treat yourself to this excellent piece of theatre, but leave the kids at home: this features sexual themes and drops the F-bomb a few times. Ready to get your tickets? Call 513-299-6638 or visit New Edgecliff Theatre – Your professional neighborhood theatre


Four Characters in Search of an Exit: A Review of Know Theatre’s “Kill Move Paradise”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Kill Move Paradise: Know Theatre

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.

It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. . .

and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.

This opening narration from the first season of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone aptly describes the latest play by Know Theatre—James Ijames’s Kill Move Paradise.

Submitted for your approval are four men—Isa (Darnell Pierre Benjamin), Grif (Landon E. Horton), Daz (Elliot Young), and Tiny (Crystian Wiltshire)—who find themselves stuck together into an empty void. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows.  Their only form of understanding of their plight is their own fuzzy memories for being in this place, a instruction book, and the occasional paper airplane for guidance.

Like a Twilight Zone episode, this is a play greatly diminished by spoilers, so I cannot tell much more of the plot without deflating the play’s mystery surrounding these four sojourners.  Suffice to say that their journey has references to current events, in the same way that Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes spoke to the social conditions of his day.

Director Piper Davis chose a strong stable of actors to fill these roles.  Davis is wise enough to let the actors play to their strengths to drive the action of this play forward.  This play can easily stall amid all of the uncertainty and the play kept its pace throughout.

Know veteran Darnell Pierre Benjamin does an outstanding job as Isa.  He commands the stage for the first part of the play and we get a sense of his total bewilderment as he is trying to figure out his situation.  Benjamin also needs to be commended for the way that he enters the stage—there is an opening at the top of the stage which slopes down to the floor.  Benjamin squeezes through and then slides down the sloping stage, landing in a heap near the audience.  This entrance is rather spectacular and memorable, since it is completely unexpected.

Landon E. Horton and Elliot Young are also strong in their portrayals as Grif and Daz. Horton’s performance as Grif was particularly strong, since he has to work off of Benjamin for a long time before Daz shows up. Young has his moments to shine, especially when he gets his lawn chair and recites the list of discarded things he found in this void offstage.

Crystian Wiltshire as Tiny rounds out the cast and did a wonderful job as Tiny.  Wiltshire captures the spirit of youth to offset other character’s older outlook.  Tiny’s character is inspired by a real twelve-year old, so Wiltshire gets around the age disparity by being hyper animated.  It works to convey a youthful playfulness that is essential to Tiny’s character.

Running just under 90 minutes on opening night, Kill Move Paradise is a wonderful exploration of contemporary events that tells all the truth, but tells it slant like a Twilight Zone episode so that we had to dig to see its contemporary relevance.

Kill Move Paradise runs Wednesdays through Sundays until March 24, 2018.  For more information, please visit Know Theatre’s website

Also, my eternal thanks to Rod Serling for the descriptive wording used in the beginning and in my description of this play.  His purple prose was perfectly appropriate for this production.  To draw again from Serling’s own words: these cast of players appeared on the odd stage—known as—The Twilight Zone.

Rose’s Laser-Focused Performance a Hit for Cincy Shakes’ “Othello”

Review by Liz Eichler of Othello: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

William Oliver Watkins and Nick Rose in “Othello”

Actor Nick Rose delivers an outstanding Iago in “Othello,” playing now through March 24 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Rose, as Iago, commands the stage from beginning to end, engineering the downfall of Othello, pulling the audience into his venomous deceit, his machinations greased with obsequiousness and false loyalty to the trusting Moor.  Rose delivers his role with such laser-focused intent that as an audience you are split—you hate, hate this Iago, but you love, love Nick Rose for vividly bringing this character to life.

Quick recap:  Othello is the story of a Moor, who has quickly risen through the ranks of the Venetian army, and has recently married Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman (who disowns her for wedding the foreigner). Iago, who feels he was overlooked by Othello for a promotion, dupes pal Roderigo, who was courting Desdemona, into a plan to break up the match. They focus on the promoted Cassio, ruining his reputation and conjuring up Othello’s jealousy. Desdemona relies on the wise counsel of Emilia, Iago’s wife, who SPOILER ALERT finally unmasks Iago’s true character.

In addition to Rose’s must-see performance, there are many other reasons to get your tickets to “Othello,” directed with fluidity and power by Christopher V. Edwards. The play is accessible as it adopts the theme of modern day warfare, with the battle news on screens, cell phones, and Budweiser. The set is filled with corrugated walls, barricades, and sand– a great job by Justin Locke, scene designer, working together with sound and video designer Doug Borntrager.  Sara Watson’s lighting design provides just the right spots of light to ferret out Iago’s treachery.

The cast is solid.  William Oliver Watkins as Othello is subdued, but strong and believable as the Moor, who can sweetly adore his new wife as well as bark orders at his men. Miranda McGee creates a caring Emilia we all want as a friend; Courtney Lucien is a loving Desdemona; Justin McCombs enriches Cassio; Jim Hopkins is a great southern Duke.

This production of “Othello” brings to life a revered classic tragedy of misplaced trust, rappelling into the darkness of a person’s soul.  Get your tickets at or call 513-381-2273 (BARD).

Covedale’s “Guys and Dolls” is a Sure Bet

Review by Doug Iden of Guys and Dolls: Covedale Theatre

Gamblers, pickpockets and assorted goons invade Broadway as one of musical comedy’s classic hits, Guys and Dolls, opened at the Covedale Theater.  Based upon his short stories, Damon Runyan’s beloved lowlifes infuse the theater with outrageous, idiosyncratic characters who spend their lives chasing the elusive financial dream of winning “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York”.

The show opens with Nathan Detroit (Jeremiah Plessinger) desperately trying to find a location for his crap game while henchmen Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Brandon Bentley), Benny Southstreet (Rich Roedersheimer) and Rusty Charlie (Cian Steele) set the stage with the delightful song “Fugue for Tinhorns”.  Bentley establishes his dominance in his role with his Subby Kaye-esque tenor voice and rotund features in the opening scene and continues to shine in several bravura performances in the second act.

Plessinger as Nathan Detroit is delightfully frantic while receiving pressure by the gamblers to host the game while trying to dodge his fiancé of 14 years (Adelaide played by Marissa Poole) who wants Nathan to stop gambling.  This is the comic couple and they deliver in spades.  One benchmark I use when evaluating this show is how Adelaide performs one of the greatest comic songs in Broadway history, “Adelaide’s Lament”.  Poole delivers the song brilliantly, as well as several risqué night club songs with the Hot Box Girls including “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink”.  The roller coaster interplay between the two helps move the show along in humorous fashion.  Poole is the only character on stage who tries to affect a Manhattan accent which is a little jarring but the accent is crucial to her primary comedy song.

The lead couple is Sky Masterson, a more sophisticated high roller, and Sarah Brown who is trying to convert sinners while running a fictional Salvation Army like mission on Broadway.  Sarah’s attempts have proven fruitless and she is close to leaving the mission.  Nathan Detroit needs seed money for his crap game and cons Sky into a sucker bet to take Sarah on a date to Havana.  The leads are played by married couple Dave Wilson and Sarah Viola and they have, predictably, a good chemistry on the stage. This is the third production that I have seen with the duo.  Wilson has a powerful voice which commands the score and Viola’s operatic voice is a good match.  My only quibble is that there are times when Viola’s voice is too operatic and too strong. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the mission workers singing “Follow the Fold”, Viola’s voice transcends the other singers in what should be a chorus.  However, she is good in the soliloquy “I’ll Know”, the semi-comic “If I Were a Bell” and the soaring duet “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” which closes the first act.

Frank Loesser wrote both the words and music for his masterpiece.  Loesser started as a lyricist only for many movies in the 1930’s but finally got his chance to do the music as well.  He also penned How to Succeed in Business.  Frank was known for writing conversational and extraordinarily witty, sassy and sardonic lyrics.   Some of the best comic songs ever written appear in this show along with several show-stopping production numbers including “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” sung by the gamblers in a mock-gospel tour de force.  The band, led by Ron Attreau, is adequate although the trumpet was a bit sour at times.

The scenery was very interesting.  In several previous productions, Brett Bowling has used a series of movable, turn-able sets. But here, the set is static with a backdrop that, alternately, represents the streets of Broadway, the mission, the Hot Box Club, Havana and the sewers of New York.  The scenes are altered by using props, some curtains (for Havana) and significant use of lighting.  This was Technical Director Denny Reed’s show with a bewildering variety of colored lights used directly or in background.  Several “neon” signs are outlined by lights which are, often, the majority of the lighting on the stage.  Reed captures the mood of the show well with his lighting.

Caren Brady must have hired an army to create all of the costumes which ranged from the mission uniforms, to sexy show girl outfits, to outrageous and discordantly colored clothes for the gamblers.  Director Tim Perrino moved the show along well and Choreographer Jeni Schwiers oversaw some good dance routines especially in the crap game and mission/gospel scenes.

Overall, I found this production to be delightful and engaging.  This is one of my favorite shows so I have a bias but I think you’ll have a good time at the Covedale.

So, go ahead and “Rock the Boat” and “Follow the Fold” to the Covedale, playing through March 11.

Stick It To The Man: A Review of the Broadway in Cincinnati’s Production of “School of Rock”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of School of Rock: Broadway in Cincinnati

Don’t just sit and take it,

Stick it to the man.

Rant and rave

and scream and shout.

Get all of your aggression out.

They try to stop you,

let ‘em know

exactly where they all can go.

And do it just as loudly as you can!

The above lyrics, taken from the song “School of Rock,” sound like a flashback from an 1980s Heavy Metal band. Instead it becomes the rallying cry of School of Rock, the latest Broadway touring show from Fifth-Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati presented by Tri-Health.

Taking its inspiration from the 2003 film of the same name, School of Rock follows the exploits of rock guitarist Dewey (Rob Colletti), who is forced to find creative ways to make money when his substitute teacher roommate Ned (Matt Bittner) insists he come up with back rent. Dewey intercepts a call meant for Ned from Horace Green, a private prep school, who inquire whether Ned can substitute teacher at their school. Seizing on the opportunity, Dewey pretends to be Ned so that he can get the rent money. In the process, Dewey discovers the hidden musical talents of his class and decides to enter them into a rock contest called the Battle of the Bands.

With new music by Broadway veteran Andrew Lloyd Webber (Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera) and lyrics by Glenn Slater, this screen-to-stage musical adaptation is above average in its music content. There are several catchy songs, like the one quoted above, that serve to delight audiences. As a result, this show ends up being a crowd pleaser, getting audiences on their feet at the end of the show excited by the action happening on stage.

Playing the role of Dewey, Rob Colletti was uneven with his performance. At the start of the show, there was something off about his playing the part of Dewey and he didn’t hit his full stride until the second act.  It is hard to see this play without thinking about Jack Black and much to his credit, Colletti’s performance tries not to channel Jack Black to the point of mimicry.  Colletti finds his own interpretation of the part and was also able to belt out rock anthems at the same time.

As the female lead, Horace Green principal and Stevie Nicks fan Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) provides a wonderful counterpoint for Dewey. Sharp was able to portray the voice of sober reason to Dewey’s crazy ideas and there was good chemistry between the two actors on stage. Sharp is also a fine singer. Not only can she belt out songs like “Where Did the Rock Go?,” but she also sings a solid version of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria from The Magic Flute.

However, the real stars of the show are the children who are in Dewey’s class.  The cast has some talented actors/musicians and there is not enough space to discuss all of them individually. Kudos go to Katie (Theodora Silverman), who was outstanding as the School of Rock bass player. Also excellent was the keyboardist Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner) and backup singer Marcy (Cloe Anne Garcia). I personally loved watching Garcia’s long hair bob and weave every which way as she was singing.  She made that role so much fun to watch. Finally, kudos have to go to the band’s manager Summer (Gabriella Uhl). Uhl hit the right note (pun intended) for her part by being the bossy know-it-all and was delightful to watch.

What was not delightful to watch on opening night was the woman who sat in the empty seats in front of me during Act II and decided to video record songs from the musical on her portable video recorder.  After being told by those around her not to record, she finally shut down her video operations after being told to stop by a floor supervisor at the Aronoff Center.

I had just taught an Intro to Theater class the day before where we went over the basics of theater etiquette. We went over the fact that video recording is against copyright rules, as well as rude to those sitting next to the person video recording.

I guess some people have no etiquette these days when they come to the theater.

So, in the words of the title song of the piece, I want to stick it to the woman sitting on the Orchestra in either seat J 209 or 210 that she ruined the glorious ending of the show by her video shenanigans and if she wants to video record something, do it outside of the theatre.

Enough said.

In closing, School of Rock is a show that should please its audiences. It is a feel-good musicals that leaves you humming the songs after the show is over. It runs February 21 to March 4 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Aronoff Center Box Office at (513) 621-2787 or by going to their website

CCM’s “Jesus Christ, Superstar” Shows Off Superstar Cast

Review by Laurel Humes of Jesus Christ Superstar: CCM Musical Theatre

From stunning dramatic images to outright comedy, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music has staged a terrific production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

In many ways, it may be more difficult to revive a 47-year-old show than produce something new. The rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) has been on Broadway four times since 1971, had many tours and a movie, and countless college productions.

But in the hands of director/choreographer Diane Lala and her fine cast, Jesus Christ Superstar is fresh and frequently thrilling.

The story is loosely based on Bible accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, starting with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. The story is told through the eyes of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

But don’t expect a Bible lesson. The fast-paced show, which is all sung with no dialogue, only has time to pause briefly on each event. And be ready for a mix of contemporary and biblical costumes, props and expressions – including cell phones!

Another note: I assume due to an abundance of talent, the roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene are double cast. Opening night, Stavros Koumbaros played Jesus, Alex Stone was Judas, and Ciara Alyse Harris was Mary.

Harris has a gorgeous voice, and her portrayal of the woman who wants only to care for Jesus is convincing. Mary has the well-known solo, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” but Harris especially shines on “Everything’s Alright.”

Stone brings much insight into Judas, who Superstar depicts with sympathy. Stone shows us Judas’ almost immediate regret for taking money to betray Jesus. He does a fine rock-star job fronting the show’s signature song, “Superstar.” The heartbreaking image, though, is his plea: “God, why did you choose me for your crimes?” Then he hangs himself, in a striking realistic scene.

Koumbaros’ Jesus evolves as events turn grim. The cracks in his sunny demeanor start to show in a compelling scene when the entire ensemble, dressed in rags as lepers, cripples and beggars, surround Jesus, pleading to be healed. “Don’t crowd me,” Jesus shouts, followed by “Heal yourselves!”

Pontius Pilate, played by the talented Phillip Johnson-Richardson, presides over Jesus’ trial. Pilate tries hard to give Jesus – and himself – an out, even sending him up the ladder to King Herod.

This is when we get some comic relief, in the hilarious, cabaret-style “King Herod’s Song,” performed by sequin-costumed Derek Kastner and back-up singers. Prove that you’re the Son of God, Herod demands of Jesus, “Walk across my swimming pool.”

It is a star turn for Kastner, who wows the audience with his singing and tap dancing. Beyond that glittery surface, though, the skillful Kastner also shows us Herod’s underlying evil.

Jesus’ fate is predetermined, of course, as he tells Pilate: “Everything is fixed and you can’t change it.”

There is the horrifying lashing, which leaves almost too-authentic bloody stripes on Jesus’ back. There is the stunning crucifixion scene, at first realistic, then backed by a cross of bright lights – befitting a Superstar.

The only resurrection in Jesus Christ Superstar is the curtain call, which is a bit jarring. But this is the story through Judas’ eyes, and he was gone before the final miracle.

If there are still tickets – opening night was sold out – the show runs through March 4, with matinees on weekends. For ticket information, call 513-556-4183.