Friday, November 15, 2019

“Jesus Christ Superstar” Hits The Civic Running and Never Stops.

I can’t remember the first time that I saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I must have been just a babe because from that time until I left the Civic Theatre after seeing this latest incarnation, a 90 minute run through total rock opera straight from England, it used to be among my favorites.

Upon leaving the theatre this last time, and probably after some twenty or so years of maturing, I hardly recognized what I thought I knew and for that matter, liked about it.

In after theatre talk on the way to the car my favorite theatre date Shannon reminded me once again that he had never seen this show before.  I too, felt like it was my first time seeing it, and I asked if he was he able to follow along? I know I was playing catch up throughout  the entire ninety minutes.

He’s a pretty savvy theatre critic himself, and mentioned he too was a bit somewhere in between liking it and stoked that we were headed home before we turned into pumpkins at nine o’clock. I dont think it made a big impression on him. 

Aaron LaVigne and Tommy McDowell and Cast
The last time I saw ‘JC’ was in concert form at SDSU presented by the School of Theatre, Television and Film and it was simply amazing; done in fine taste and well thought out with over 100 performers, a 65 piece orchestra, and a 120 strong University Chorus. It was spellbinding.  

Before that, in 2012 former artistic director of The La Jolla Playhouse, Des McAnuff brought his pre Broadway version of ‘JC’ and that one ran over two hours. It too was quite a spectacle.

Still on the ‘I like it spectrum’ I left the Playhouse satisfied and thought this could be the last time seeing it. But being a glutton for punishment, I forged ahead and well… keep reminding me please that the umpteenth time is quite enough and that I don’t do heavy rock that well.
Aaron LaVigne and Jenna Rubaiiand  Cast
Soon it will be the Christmas holidays when most will be celebrating the birth of Christ. Young in comparison, this is the 50th anniversary national tour of JC Superstar, and for those interested it is playing at the Civic Theatre through the 17th, this Sunday.

The day after I saw this production, under the direction of Timothy Sheader, I pulled out my CD of the original sound track to see where I lost the tribes in this particular rock star -studded reinvention that is stuck in a time warp by the very nature of the music.  

The story is all there but the continuity is somewhere in between. Characters seem lost and isolated from one another, and the connections to and of each other are not cemented.  Seamless changes in the questioning of the Passion of Jesus, and the last days on earth of the superstar and his nemesis Judas might work for some but this someone left the theatre feeling empty.

Director Sheader and his talented crew, who by the way all had powerful voices, seemed more interested in a rock show rather than in substance. Microphones doubled as staffs and stands, glitter fell from the open rafters on the characters and stage and a bloody like sticky mess covered Jesus’ back after his 39 lashes.
Cast with James Delisco Beeks, Aaron LaVigne and Jenna Rubaii
The main stay of the set is a giant cross/ runway for the actors to get back and forth. There’s a terrific light show, masks,  the band with musical direction by Shawn Gough sits above the action looking at the audience; smoke hazes over the stage, and the chorography could be a modern dancers wet dream. (Drew McOnie) There is lot’s of it.

Jesus (Aaron LaVigne) plays a mean guitar, Mary Magdalene (Jenna Rubaii) still ‘Didn’t Know How To Love Him”, Herrod  (Paul Louis Lessard) dressed in his gold lame frills (credit Tom Scutt for costumes hair and scenic) is a hoot as he sashays singing ‘Herrod’s Song”… ‘So You are the Christ -You're the great Jesus Christ -Prove to me that You're divine-Change my water into wine’

Steady and somber Judas (a powerhouse James Delisco Beeks )  makes his case in “Heaven On Their Minds”, The Caiaphas (Alvin Crawford),  Priests (Brian Golub, Charles McCall, Garfield Hammonds) make theirs in “This Jesus Must Die”,  Tommy Sherkock’s anti –Semitic Pilot  had his ‘Dream’ and in a clever reenactment of Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’ with Jesus, Judas, Apostles and Boys, Jesus’ fate was sealed. It was just a matter of time.

The Last Supper

Of course it’s always interesting to see how each director is going to crucify Jesus. This one was pretty unique but no spoilers.

If hard rock is your beat, this one’s for you.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 17t
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Phone: 619 570-1100
Production Type: Rock Musical
Where: 1100 Third Ave, Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: Start at $26.00
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy

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