Jesus Christ Superstar; A Resurrection like No Other on Broadway
Ideals. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Three words to describe the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar currently receiving a Broadway revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. And when I finally got the chance to check out this 21st century revival of the classic rock musical, I discovered a resurrection like no other on Broadway filled with LED’s, incredible talent and a timeless tale the world will know.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock musical that features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical follows the life of Jesus Christ in his final week of life. Trying to spread the word of his mission, the crowd has turned him into a “Superstar” and is slowly loosing what the true meaning behind his word is. The story heavily focuses on the relationship between Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot. We see Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and the aftermath that follows as he fights society with his new ideal that the high powers will not answer to.
While I myself am not a Andrew Lloyd Webber fan by any means, this hands down proves to be his most effective and best score written. (At least in my opinion. Sorry Phantom Fans) The musical is filled with memorable tunes such as “Heaven on their Minds”, “This Jesus Must Die”, “Dammned for All Time/Blood Money”, “Gethsemane” and “Superstar”. The list could go on for a while. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score provides effective in telling the story but bringing the emotion of the story to the audience through its music. And Mr. Rice’s lyrics prove just as epic with lines such as “Show me there’s a reason for you wanting me to die. You’re very keen on when and where but not so hot on why”. Jesus Christ Superstar is not only a memorable experience but a fun one with upbeat tunes and movement all around.
This production directed by Des McAnuff, best known for his work on Jersey Boys, brings to life the classic rock musical in a 21st century style. The stage is filled with platforms, LED screens, moving lights and projections all about. This is a clearly a revival for a new century of theatre. And that I think is effective. The production also features choreography by Lisa Shriver which proves heavy through out the course of the show. This seems to be the make or break for many people checking out this Broadway production – the fact that is quite literally never stops moving. Personally, that for me scored as I enjoyed the consistent moving about and entire use of the stage. You have all that space so you might as well use it. I’m sure McAnuff also played a huge part in the consistent moving of the piece as that is how Jersey Boy’s works – Consistent moving that keeps the audience focused bring to life a spectacular musical that remembers to tell the story in the process.
Paul Nolan stars as Jesus Christ Superstar in the production making his Broadway debut. Nolan’s voice is insane literally blowing you away consistently as the show progresses. A true rock voice, he has found a calling in the role of Jesus in this Superstar production. I would not say however I found myself connecting to him emotionally through out the show. While his vocals exceed expectations, his acting is lacking. Despite this though, you still do feel remorse through out the entire lashes sequence that occurs in the second half of the show. Nolan does prove to be a crowd pleaser winning over the audience at “Why should you want to know”.
Jeremy Kushnier went on in the role of Judas Iscariot I went to check out the productin. (Josh Young was out fighting an upper respitory infection the night I saw it) However, Kushnier does prove successful in his portrayal of the one who betrays Jesus. His voice, opposite of Young’s, is the classic wailing rock tenor that plays the game of “Exactly how high can I sing?” His vocals though were fantastic through out and I also very much enjoyed his acting. It is clear how much it hurts him to betray Jesus and that is something that was portrayed to the audience as well. His rendition of “Superstar” is fantastic and a great note to end the show on quite literally before it all finally ends. Side note: While I did very much enjoy Kushnier’s performance, I do plan to return and see Josh Young as Judas.
Chilina Kennedy who stars as Mary Magdalene in the production is also making her Broadway debut. Kennedy’s vocals for the most part are good but her acting and overall appearance on stage did not score for me. Out of the trinity that leads this show (Jesus-Mary-Judas), she is hands down the weakest link. Also, I did nt personally enjoy many of the choices the creative team had instructed her to do. Her break dancing in front of Jesus during “Simon Zealotes” is not only out of place but awkward as a whole.
Tom Hewitt who stars as Pontius Pilate is brillant in the production. Despite the fact that he is rarely on stage in the production, he is hands down one of the best aspects of the production entirely. Fantastic vocals and superb acting prove to be a great force as his character is what finally drives Jesus to his final point and death. He also gets to where a pretty snazzy purple suit. Hewitt, despite his character being dark, is one of the brightest points of the entire production.
Bruce Dow stars in the production as King Herod is hands down one of the highest points of the show. He proves hilarious through out the scene mocking Jesus with his band of dancers. And Dow scores across the board by not speak singing the role (which is too often done) but actually singing and bringing to life high notes like it’s his job. The audience goes wild for his over the top antic’s and mocking which also including playing a piano in the middle of his own song. Brava on making one of the smaller roles of the production one of the brightest.
I do also have to give shout outs to Lee Siegel who starred as Simon Zealotes in the production and Mike Nadajewski who starred in the production as Peter. Both of them proved fantastic through out the show with loads of talent. You only get a small chance to enjoy each of their talents in their spotlight moments so take it in and don’t forget it. Sometimes I found myself thinking that what Broadway may need is more performers like this – minor ones with ridiculous amounts of talent who prove not only as effective but as talented as the stars of said production.
When it comes to the technical aspects of the production, this Jesus Christ Superstar production has been brought to life using the most effective and current technology there currently is. The stage is filled with lights and LED’s that are consistently used through out the show designed by Howell Binkley. Rolling screens with words and images are used to help tell the story which I enjoyed making everything only that much heavier. The two story set, designed by Robert Brill, allows for movement which the show carries a lot of that is why it proves so effective while still using so little. Open passage ways filled with ladders and staircases are used by the cast consistently as they move through out to tell the story. Paul Tazewell‘s costume design is modern without loosing what exactly makes the show so biblical. Keeping the main characters in their intended looks of the time, they stand out against the more modern hipster background ensemble who are also heavily featured in the show. And Steve Kennedy’s sound design mixed with an epic rock school consistently have you rocking out in your seat you are currently in. This score and show show is something worth celebrating which is brought to life through the sound execution of the show. All these design choices have honored the original point and intention of the story but have proved to show how this musical and tale is timeless. It does not matter what generation or time we find ourselves in. But, we can always find hope, sacrifice and morals if we look around us.
If I were you, I’d absolutely make my way to check out Jesus Christ Superstar back on Broadway better then ever before. If you have ever experienced this show and not enjoyed it or connected with it, try again. I know that is a situation I found myself in and was happy to say in the end I was proved wrong. This effective piece is not only good to have back on Broadway but honors the rock musical. THIS is what rock musical theatre is about! And I wouldn’t miss it if I were you. Jesus Christ Superstar is currently playing at the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd street in New York City. For more information, check out Jesus Christ Superstar’s Official Website or check out their Official Facebook Page. And of course, check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for your theatre news you don’t only want but need to know and more!