Theater Review: "Jesus Christ Superstar" On Broadway
The rock opera (for there are only a handful of lines of spoken dialogue) follows the final days of Jesus Christ (Paul Nolan), as Judas (Josh Young) realizes that Jesus has overextended himself and needs to be stopped. Mary Magdalene (Chilena Kennedy) is there to spread the love, prostitute jokes aside—this revival is serious business. Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Phantom of the Opera," "Evita") composed the score, with uninspired lyrics by Tim Rice (who would later go on to do much better work with Alan Menken for "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin"). Des McAnuff directs this production, which originated at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, travelled to La Jolla Playhouse, and then transferred to Broadway.
It seems that the show's main problem is its transience. With a total running time of about 100 minutes, excluding the intermission, it certainly errs on the side of brevity. More distressing, however, was the fact that, despite the cast's commitment, everything they sang tended to go in one ear and out the other. The only number that truly made an impression was Young's "Damned For All Time," his crisis about turning Jesus in. His passionate Judas is indeed, the highlight of the show, though Nolan and Kennedy are generally pleasant as Jesus and Mary Magdalene, respectively. None of the cast members is bad, so much as unmemorable.
Also bland were the show's creative elements. It seems to be trying to hip, with no success. The hip hop-inspired choreography bears no relation to the accompanying lyrics, and the projections (with the exception of the Bible verses at the end of the show) give the show a megachurch feel, a sentiment echoed by the overly loud orchestra and flat sound design. The dramatic lighting design is pretty, but serves no effect aside from lighting the actors and being striking, while the spare set, which is unimaginatively utilized, adds to the production's Insta-Musical effect. Paul Tazewell's costume design may be the most successful creative element of the show, but it is not without its misfires (some questions raised: Why are the men in the temple wearing bondage apparel? Why is Jesus' tank top slung so low as to nearly display his entire sternum?).
Like a Chia pet, the show is vaguely interesting at the time, but is ultimately impermanent. It's hard to say that the show isn't living up to its potential, as in a rock opera, the score must carry the entire piece, and Webber's score is not particularly awe-inspiring. This production seems to be the a part of the string of shows that are brought to Broadway not because they are relevant and have an important message, but because it looks like they might make money. It's a sad trend, but one with which we must live.
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