UC-CCM’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is a spectacle, as it should be. It’s spectacularly sung, spectacularly choreographed. It’s a visual feast and a delicious vocal buffet. I walked away from both performances I saw humming the music, reveling in the joy of a great production.
It’s an interesting show, for lots of reasons. It started as a concept album and then was turned into a fully staged musical. Andrew Lloyd Weber has written from a unique and distinct perspective, far different from that of the traditional Christian story. As a Bible college graduate, it’s a little unsettling for the story to end at the Crucifixion. To see Judas portrayed as looking out for the best interest of Jesus’s message is interesting. There’s enough layers and levels of subtext and nuance throughout the sung-through musical to analyze for days.
This spectacle of a production only captures a little of that nuance; I think that’s OK. There’s much to love about Diane Lala’s direction. The stage pictures she creates in collaboration with scenic designer Matthew D. Hamel and lighting designer Eric McCandless are gorgeous. The attention to detail in choreography and lyrics is intelligent and she strikes a fine balance between heavy drama, sardonic humor, and one out right hilarious tap dancing performance by “Herod” (a bold, fearless Derek Kastner).
“Jesus,” “Judas,” and “Mary Magdalene” are double cast. I was privileged to see both sets perform on consecutive nights. Senior Stavros Koumbaros stands tall as Jesus, with his solid singing voice and powerful physique. His counterpart, Junior Bryce Baxter finds all the emotional layers and pain in the beautiful “Gethsemane.” Seniors Ciara Alyse Harris and Keaton Whittaker both shine as “Mary Magdalene,” with such professionalism and heart. Juniors Alex Stone and Jordan Miller bring unique performance styles to “Judas,” with Stone’s exquisite vocal range and ability to express righteous anger and emotion. Miller’s overall talent is impossible to ignore. No matter which cast you see, you’ll walk away impressed.
Other standouts are Chris Kelley (“Peter”) who’s dancing acumen should take him straight to Broadway, the above mentioned Kastner (“Herod”), Phillip Johnson-Richardson (“Pilate”), and EJ Dohring (“Simon”). The entire ensemble dances emphatically and proficiently. Some of the wigs by Meredith Keister are remarkable (specifically those belonging to Judas and Pilate), with a couple of notable missteps. Ashley Berg’s costumes are simple, but effective. Roger Grodsky (and Luke Flood) conduct a great orchestra and the musical direction of this rock opera is spot on.
While not a perfect production (has there ever been one?) this is a pretty fabulous theatrical event. And I was thrilled to see the theatre full both nights I was there. Check theology at the door and appreciate this show for the spectacle that it is.
JESUS CHRIS SUPERSTAR runs through March 4th in the Patrica Corbett Theatre at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Click here for more information.