Aaron LaVigne and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since the world was introduced to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, and yet the reimagined 50th anniversary tour just hit DPAC’s stage. It’s long been a show that melds the contemporary and the past, and this latest production takes that inclination to a whole other level. Here, Jesus (Aaron LaVigne) is a rock and roll god with hipster hair, and the whole story plays out like a loud, crazed rock concert. The people have traded in their biblical-times tunics and robes for hoodies and sports bras, and the set looks more industrial than in past iterations. However, the sensational story still comes through and, in many ways, is made stronger by this new approach.
A lot stands out about this production. For one thing, everyone holds microphones, enhancing the concert feel and adding subtle subtext about the often performative nature of faith and public profession. For another, Drew McOnie’s cool, jerky, and always eye-catching choreography leaps off the stage. It pervades every scene and is used both to entertain and enlighten.
There are also some incredibly strong performers here. LaVigne’s Jesus is sympathetic, likeable, and resoundingly human. The same goes for Omar Lopez-Cepero’s “Judas,” who is, in this story, not a villain but Christ’s conflicted counterpart and cohort. And, then, there’s Jenna Rubaii’s Mary Magdalene. With an angelic voice and a soft nature, Rubaii creates a strong female character with complex emotions that hit you right in the gut. Her delivery of “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” dig deep into the soul. In fact, that’s something that can be said for the production as a whole.
What really comes through here is how misunderstood and how alone Judas, Christ, and really, everyone feels. The story is presented as a tragedy, but also as one of faith and its power. It’s everything a church Easter play should be but never is. It also demonstrates that, regardless of one’s faith or belief system, this is one good story. It has all the elements of a great tale, of great theatre even, and when it’s presented as exactly that, its strength shines through. Of course, director Timothy Sheader’s clever staging choices and striking touches, like gold glitter rain and Judas’ silver-tainted hands, help too.
Jesus Christ Superstar is what happens when a rock concert combines with the most enduring biblical tale of all. It’s likely to mean many things to many people, with personal experience playing a role in interpretation. The challenge here is to separate from that and experience this musical for what it is: a story of a man who took a chance and, right or wrong, inspired others, both in his time and beyond, to do the same.
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