Saturday, December 22, 2012

Best Shows of 2012: #6

Best of 2012
#6 – Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus learns that living in NYC means ignoring the noise coming from right next to you.

Until last spring’s Broadway revival, I couldn’t even begin to fathom the enduring appeal of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.  An indulgently screechy rock opera written for singers with superhuman voices, the show features almost zero character development and a poorly scripted plot that’s nearly incomprehensible to those not already familiar with the story of Jesus Christ’s final days.  But after viewing director Des McAnuff’s pulse-pounding production, I finally “got” the show and why it has continued to appeal to generations of fans.

A dynamically engaging post-apocalyptic setting combined with McAnuff and choreographer Lisa Shriver’s propulsive movement gave this Superstar a drive few musicals can muster.  Each subsequent number would build upon the one which preceded it, and suddenly Lloyd Webber’s constant repetition of melodies and motifs felt purposeful and even necessary.  This staging successfully captured the giddy, over-the-top nature of a rock concert, while simultaneously adding unexpected depth to the show’s key interpersonal dynamics.  Now the relationships between Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene weren’t just talked about but deeply felt, communicated through piercing stares and telling body language.

The entire cast deserves kudos for effortlessly highlighting the show’s hidden complexity and handling its vocal demands as well as any group of actors I’ve ever seen.  Paul Nolan’s pitch perfect rock tenor even managed to make the unending bombast of Jesus’ “Gethsemane” palatable, with the fact that he looked like the walking embodiment of every Renaissance painting of Christ serving as an added bonus.  Although I missed Josh Young’s Tony-nominated Judas due to the actor’s pervasive health issues, understudy Jeremy Kushnier was an entirely compelling anti-hero who genuinely struggled with the decision to betray his former friend.  And Chilina Kennedy’s Mary was the perfect foil for the two estranged friends at the show’s center, delivering the oft-sung “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” with refreshing honesty and conviction.

Jesus Christ Superstar will never be a great show, but this was a truly great production capable of converting even the show’s most ardent critics, myself included.  As a theatrical event and musical experience it exceeded all possible expectations, presenting a fresh take on the tired and at times overwrought material.  Unfortunately Superstar failed to find much of an audience and has long since closed, but those lucky enough to have seen it know why it was one of the Best Shows of 2012.


For a full review of Jesus Christ Superstar, click here.

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