Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” Rocks
Review by Nathan Top
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is the rock opera re-imagining of the final week of Jesus. The narrative centers on the relationship between Jesus, self-proclaimed savior and king of the Jews, and Judas, who is suffering a crisis of faith in his found leader. While Jesus finds himself in over his head with the role he was destined to play, Judas’s fear takes control of his life, leading to his historic betrayal and ultimately his own demise. With music and lyrics by legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, this pivotal rock opera is the hottest (and loudest) show in Cincinnati this December.
Elvie Ellis (Judas) is hypnotic to watch from his first number “Heaven on Their Minds,” absolutely crushing the vocally demanding number and setting the tone for the rest of the show. Jack Hopewell (Jesus) is engaging and heartbreaking while also performing his own vocal acrobatics. Honestly, just watching Ellis and Hopewell vocally battle through the production is worth every penny of admission. Faith Jones (Mary) nails her big numbers, the second (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”) a memorable power ballad revealing how she is in love with Jesus and it scares her.
Isaac Ryckeghem (Ciaphas) and Kodiak Thompson (Annas) are appropriately eerie as antagonists to Jesus. Nicholas Hambruch (Pilate) gives an incredible performance for both his numbers “Pilate’s Dream” and “Trial By Pilate/39 Lashes,” the latter being the most haunting and memorable number of the night. Colin Robertson (Peter) gives a heartbreaking rendition of “Peter’s Denial” and Erich W. Schleck (Herod) steals the show with an iconic costume reveal during “Herod’s Song.”
The rest of the ensemble is vocally tight and actively engaged in the drama of what proves to be a vigorously athletic production. Director Timothy Sheader’s vision for the show is simultaneously contemporary and ageless. The show is an ever-moving rock concert between two starring divos Jesus and Judas, both in conflict with themselves and each other. While irreverent (and probably blasphemous to some), the show never feels satirical. Instead, it reflects an agnostic love letter to the biblical story, a joyful telling of a great tragedy. Even knowing how the story would end, the final moment of the show is both moving and surprisingly subdued following the loudest show of the season.
Hair, costume, and scenic designer Tom Scutt’s industrial set is the perfect playground for the Sheader’s vision, the two cultivating some hauntingly beautiful images of the most famous martyrdom in history. The cast is dressed in hoodies and skinny pants, pulling influence from grunge subculture. The show is filled with welcome anachronisms both musical and otherwise, creating a dramatic juxtaposition that makes the storytelling both timely and timeless. Wireless mics on stands are used throughout the production, often doubling as various props. With Lee Curran’s lighting design thrown in the mix, the production truly doubles as a 90-minute rock concert.
While the idea of attending a rock opera from the early 70’s about the death of Jesus sounded dated, this production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is an absolute roller coaster of a show: fun, poignant, and heartbreaking. Running now through December 18th, tickets can be purchased here.
Nathan Top is a Cincinnati-based playwright and musician. Nathan works as a freelance trumpeter and pianist, performing in big bands, pit orchestras, and pop groups throughout the area.