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Superstar Shows its Age

Leave it to Cats's creator Andrew Lloyd Webber to turn the majestic story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion into a glitzed-out melodrama in which the characters express themselves in the most prosaic language. For instance, they announce such profundities as "Jesus is cool." Like it or not, Jesus Christ Superstar has been resurrected at the Wortham, thanks to the efforts of Theatre Under the Stars.

Though the once youthful "rock opera" holds a special place in the hearts of many ex-hippy, fortysomething suburbanites (who from that era can forget the title song or such heartfelt tunes as "I Don't Know How to Love Him"?), it is the sort of show that lasts best as a faded memory. Most modern teenagers would roll their eyes in embarrassed horror at the silliness of this production.

Schmaltzy music, shock-treated into the "rock" genre by an ever-present electric guitar, drips with ludicrous lyrics. At one point the disciples sing, "When we retire, we can write the Gospels, so they'll still talk about us when we die." And to Jesus they sing, "What's up boss, tell me what's a happening?" But when Jesus is being carted off to the Roman dungeons the line becomes "What's the buzz, tell me what's a happening?"

This is made worse by Jamie Rocco's direction and choreography. Rocco has worked Jesus (Eric Kunze) and Judas (Ray Walker) into a lather of angst-ridden, beseeching fists. The actors — they have beautiful voices and lots of energy — are constantly throwing back their heads and sweeping open their arms and hands in general high-pitch emotion. Most everyone on stage has been torqued up into a frenzy of confusing feelings. Only Neal Benari as Pontius Pilate is able to create credibility in this mess.

The choreography consists mostly of the cast moving in circles over and over again around Michael Anania's unimaginative set. There is also an unfortunate number toward the end, when the dead Judas is resurrected to sing "Jesus Christ Superstar" dressed in a sequined and fringed jacket.

It's enough to make any self respecting 40-year-old shudder with recognition. Did we really dress like that?

 
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