A musical that stirred protests and religious skepticism, Jesus Christ Superstar started off as a rock record that solidified into a film and eventual full-fledged musical production.  In its heyday and at the height of its popularity it was deemed to be radical and was not without controversy. A Jesus movement and Gospel influence had started to flourish in the early 1970’s which subsequently catapulted the film into pop icon status.
The revival of Jesus Christ Superstar aims to be revolutionary in a stripped down, bare bones interpretation of the story of the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. Written from the viewpoint of Judas Iscariot, it tells the story of the Christ and his claim to be the Messiah, then his crucifixion. Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera of ages, a crowned sensation that rivals other rock musicals of its caliber. Conceptualized by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, it churned out super hits like the titular number, “Everything’s Alright,” “Gethsemane,” “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” and “Superstar.”
From the opening of this iconic masterpiece, the energy could be felt as cast members streamed down the aisles, racing to the stage in preparation for the overture to begin. With choreography by Drew McOnie, every movement was stylized and the choreography was sharp, and abrasive, yet enrapturing to watch. The production is edgy and as modern of an interpretation as you probably can get, with elements of biblical mixed into a post-apocalyptic present-day vibe. The styling of costuming is modern as well, daring to expose midriffs, and creating free flowing movement in non-restrictive unisex clothing. Jesus is garbed in white-at times he is in a hoodie or a wife beater, but nonetheless his purity illuminates through in the choice of costuming. The choreography demands it after all, with its fluid motion and cohesive block formations ever changing to reflect characters or situations taking place.
One of the things that is really notable about this particular production are of course the vocals, the talent and the range of flexibility and stamina exerted. Something else notable, the principals use hand-held microphones which prove to be a little awkward at times. Poetic license is also exercised quite freely in terms of story arcs, story lines, and staging. With the use of hand-held mics and acoustic guitars, the feel at times is that almost of a theatrical rock concert. A sultry midriff-baring Mary (Jenna Rubaii), croons to Jesus in “Everything’s Alright,” and does so with a gorgeous soft belt that builds and can easily amplify enough to pierce the stratosphere.
Judas, played by James Delisco Beeks, is in a constant battle in his mind, wrestling with himself over the questions of Jesus’ validity. He reinforces the idea repeatedly throughout that Jesus is ‘just a man,’ and tries vehemently to separate fact from fiction. In his quest to distinguish the myth from the man he chooses betrayal, which is ultimately his undoing. A pervasive theme of sympathy towards Judas is inherent in the storyline, and the motif is found throughout most of the hit numbers such as “Heaven On Their Minds,” “Strange Thing, Mystifying,” and “Superstar.”
Aaron LaVigne emanates the larger than life qualities of Jesus, with his rockstar persona, complete with a man bun coiff and an acoustic guitar he himself plays on stage. His performance of Gethsemane is raw and emotive, coming from the depths of an anguished soul. LaVigne is a songwriter hailing from Cincinatti, and you can definitely detect the grit in his stylized rock vocals. A talented ensemble transitions between being disciples, Romans, and an angelic Gospel choir. Many roles feature dancers or soloists that keep the narrative moving swiftly along.
Directed by Timothy Sheader, symbolism really has a role throughout this production. The entire show is sans an intermission. Every formation and every bit of staging reflects something going on within the song, or serves as an abstract interpretation or metaphor. A giant cross is the walkway and connector between humanity and the divine. Jesus, in all his glory, even glitters as he endures agonizing torture and pain during the crucifixion.
The newly revamped revival, unlike the original production, has far more modern appeal for a newer generation just discovering Superstar. And like its predecessor, it is sure to be a hit phenomenon among audiences old and new.

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