Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
December 9, 2011
He’s risen, he’s revealed, and he’s back in San Diego — just in time for his birthday.
“Jesus Christ Superstar,” in the acclaimed Stratford Festival revival, helmed by La Jolla Playhouse director emeritus Des McAnuff , is making a brief local stop on its way to Broadway. In all honesty, I’m not the biggest fan of the 1971 rock opera, or its creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, but this new incarnation is a visual stunner and an auditory knockout.
An interesting combo of hi- and lo-tech, the musical opens with a luminous projection that rolls backward from 2011 to 33 A.D., underscoring the relationship between this time and that, twin hotbeds of religious fervor, power plays and realpolitik. There’s an electronic news-crawl countdown, to the onset of Passover, the Last Supper, and the ensuing crucifixion. But in-between the hi-tech hijinks, amid the stark, sometimes perilous metal scaffolding, the stadium seating is pushed around by the performers, in a kind of old-school way.
McAnuff couldn’t update the story, but he tweaks the relationships, making Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene a close triumvirate, until Judas becomes jealous of the time Mary gets alone with their ever-more-popular leader, and in a fit of competitive pique, betrays him. Interesting take, which works fine, thanks to the sensational performances.
Paul Nolan is an aptly long-haired, serene, beatific Jesus. Chilina Kennedy is heartfelt, confused and adoring as Mary. And Josh Young is positively electrifying as Judas, with a dazzling voice that soars stratospherically or, purrs in love, guilt and remorse.
The rest of the bad guys are really good, too: Marcus Nance with his impossibly resonant bass as High Priest Caiaphas, nicely juxtaposed with the vibrant tenor of Aaron Walpole as his sidekick, Annas . Jeremy Kushnier , who stepped into the role of Pontius Pilate late in the game, acquits himself commendably. And this King Herod, Bruce Dow, looking a lot like a debauched Zero Mostel , is less outré and outrageous than many who have come before.
The costumes are wide-ranging and imaginative, though it’s a little creepy that the Jews look like dreadlocked Middle Eastern terrorists. Howell Binkley’s lighting deserves star billing.
The dancing is wildly acrobatic at times, and excellently executed. Lisa Shriver’s choreography ranges from hip to hippie, with a little S&M raunch tossed in for the Temple scene . It’s mind-blowing that these mega-talented triple-threats work in a repertory company where they alternate high-kicking musicals with Shakespearean drama.
McAnuff still knows how to rock, and the killer 11-piece band, with seven locals, under the musical direction of Rick Fox, is exactly as hard-hitting as devotees demand. The sound is so crisp that every word is sharply intelligible.
So, what are you waiting for? The spectacle has arrived. Jesus is here for you.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” runs through December 31 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2011 PAT LAUNER