Jesus Christ Superstar
By Martin Brady
August 26, 2009
With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock last week, you'd think some
local theater company might've ventured forth with a production of
Hair, the quintessential '60s-era rock musical. None emerged, but
Boiler Room Theatre has stepped in the direction of Aquarian idealism
with the next best thingJesus Christ Superstar, which post-dated the
Summer of Love by just a year, and was steeped in that heady era's
youthful rebellion. Just one more upraised middle finger from the
counterculture to The Man.
JCS caused a stir at a time when Vietnam war protests and
anti-establishment fervor were still very much in the air. A rock
opera telling the story of Jesus' passion and death? What may have
seemed blasphemous then was a great idea in retrospect. The story
compelsnot least of all because it's one we all know so well. And
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hodgepodge score endures. Here's a
case where being ahead of your time really pays off.
As the strains of the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" play
over the BRT sound system, you enter the theater and travel back four
decades, setting the stage for co-directors Jamey Green and Billy
Ditty, who attempt to re-create the musical's flower-power energy.
Anyone looking for an innovative stylistic take on what is becoming
an old warhorse will probably be disappointed, yet the show's
definitely worth a look if only for curiosity's sake.
Very much like Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,
JCS is essentially a cantata, relying on stalwart singing to relate
both plot and character. That happens here with regularity, though
individual players rarely distinguish themselves.
Ciaran McCarthy is a brooding, anxious and soulful-looking Judas, and
in his misdeeds he is every bit the show's co-star. He acts credibly,
including hanging himself with dramatic flair, though his understated
rendition of the critical "Heaven on Their Minds" only scratched the
surface of its potential power.
Joann Coleman's Mary Magdalene has the right wounded yet beatific
demeanor. Her singing is proficient and effective in numbers like
"Everything's Alright" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him," though she
tends toward the annoying vibrato excess of lesser American Idol
contestants. (Some listeners may find that fashionable.)
Ben Van Diepen is the humanized, ultimately reluctant redeemer Jesus.
He sings capably, but rarely takes a noticeable solo. That's because
he's usually surrounded by hordes of followers or detractors, putting
him in the middle of good numbers like the intense "The Temple," the
humorous "What's the Buzz" and the familiar "Hosanna"which, with its
captivating harmonic changes, is as catchy as ever.
Plus it's ultimately Van Diepen's vehicle, and he withstands his
betrayal, his 40 whiplashes and his crown of thorns with stoic
nobility before enduring his crucifixion. In fact, the latter proves
stirring, and hats off to Van Diepen for bearing that literal cross.
In visceral effect, his performance is no rival for Mel Gibson's The
Passion of the Christ, but it's fine live theater, with just the
right amount of pathos.
"King Herod's Song," the long-awaited Act 2 vaudeville showstopper,
is usually an automatic people-pleaser. While certainly no failure,
this versionfeaturing respected funnyman Scott Riceis more effete
than slam-dunk hilarious, and thus a bit disappointing, even if
Elsewhere, Devin Clevenger brings a nice big voice to his Simon
Zealotes portrayal in "Poor Jersusalem," Alan Lee postures ruggedly
as Pontius Pilate and W. Scott Stewart leads the high priests with
his deep baritone in the briskly effective "This Jesus Must Die."
The Ditty choreography incorporates shimmy-and-clap moves, hints of
bacchanalia and a general sense of hippie enthusiasm throughout,
while the cast of 19 cavorts with celebratory ease in Melissa
Cannon's costume mix of contemporary denim, peasant dress and period robes.
Co-director Green also conducts an eight-man band sharply through the
piece's blessed eclecticism, with guitarist Joey Green adding crisp
licks throughout. Yet there were also points where the combo's sound
was too brassy, with the horns actually drowning out the singers on occasion.
In short, this Jesus Christ Superstar looked like a bit of a happy
mess on its opening weekend. Despite its undisciplined feel, it
nevertheless exuded sincerity and entertainingly exploited its
memorable score and message of love and sacrifice.