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.