So with Easter only a week away, it seems the perfect time of year to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway. The Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice musical was considered innovative when it opened almost forty years ago. And I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this newest incarnation, a reimagined version coming out of Stratford in England via La Hoya in California.
When I was in the seventh grade our choir director played the album for us. And I was transformed. I grew up listening to the soundtracks from various musicals and loving every one of them, but this was something different. A musical that spoke my language. It was sparkling, dynamic and reintroduced me to a story I’d grown up with in a way that made it current—something that resonated with me in a way old Bible stories had never done. Like Godspell, it transformed the past into a beating heart I could understand. Something real. Tangible.
And all that from an album! Imagine what it would be like to see the real thing? Only of course as a teenager in Dallas (at the time) I didn’t really have much of a chance to head for New York and Broadway. Fast-forward to 1977 and I was there. But unfortunately Jesus Christ Superstar wasn’t on our itinerary. In the meantime though, I bought the album and celebrated the music.
Fast forward again to 2012 and the Broadway revival. This time, I’m living in the city and counting the days until tickets go on sale. But in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried. I’m a lot older. And I’d seen the revival of Godspell and failed to find the enchantment I’d seen all those years ago, even though I still loved the music. But I’d also revisited A Chorus Line (a musical that was on that 1977 itinerary) and it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered. I still had hope.
So tickets in hand, we presented ourselves at the Neil Simon Theatre last week, settled into our seats, and with great anticipation, awaited the opening of the show. And I have to say that from the first electrical notes I was transported. Not only to my youth, but deep into the story of the end of Jesus’s life on earth and the disappointment and disillusion that plagued his friends and followers at the end.
Although I found the electronic signs distracting, the rest of the set was wonderfully created and used to full advantage. And the costumes, while certainly not truly period, evoked the essence of the characters who wore them, coming together to create a well-rounded essence of both place and time.
Josh Young as Judas, opened with the stunningly powerful Heaven on Their Minds. The energy level in the theatre rising with every chord and note. He was particularly strong I thought in both the opening and in Judas’s death. Although I wasn’t as connected in the end when he sang Superstar, but I think that was more the costuming which jumped to modern clothes in electric blue (including shoes) and was quite distracting.
Paul Nolan, playing Jesus, was excellent as well. I found his Jesus much more on the mark than Hunter Parrish’s Jesus in Godspell. Nolan’s voice was strong and filled with emotion, particularly singing Gethsemane. And the ending with the cross, had me reaching for my husband’s handkerchief. It was beautifully played.
Chilina Kennedy played Mary with a wily grace that put one in mind of a ballerina. She was both earthy and ethereal, the combination the perfect embodiment of both Mary’s past and her involvement with Jesus and his disciples. Everything’s Alright was a lovely balance between her voice, Nolan’s and Young’s. And the chemistry between the three was palpable. And I Don’t Know How To Love Him carried Mary to a completely separate place as she grappled with loving (probably for the first time) a man she knows she can never have.
Tom Hewitt, playing Pilot, was marvelous singing Pilot’s Dream. And Bruce Dow almost brought the house down as Harod singing Herod’s song. The rest of the cast provided the perfect backdrop. From the ensemble in the crowd scenes to the men portraying the disciples.
All in all it was a wonderful performance. I had thought that at the very least, I would be able to sit back, close my eyes, and listen to the marvelous music. But instead, thankfully, I was carried back to Jerusalem and final days of Jesus Christ–who most certainly was a Superstar!
Happy Easter everyone! If you get the chance. Go see the musical.
Jesus Christ Superstar, Neil Simon Theatre, 250, West 53nd Street. 877-250-2929