Saturday, March 10, 2018

Jesus Christ Superstar


Thoroughly Modern Anachronism
by Michael Dresdner

All photos by Dennis K Photography

In 1970, the soon-to-be legendary duo of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a rock opera about the last week of Jesus’ life, as seen through the eyes of Judas. The result, anachronistically set in modern times but with all the period Roman references intact, is Jesus Christ Superstar, a dazzling song-and-dance extravaganza with all the dialogue delivered in song. This fast-paced, energetic, and visually stunning  version, which opened last night at Tacoma Little Theatre, is both directed and brilliantly choreographed by Lexi Barnett.

The Apostles
The play opens as his followers welcome Jesus (Bruce Hassl), replete with a Stratocaster guitar slung around his neck, to Jerusalem. Judas (Loucas T. Curry), in conflict with his close friend’s politics and his followers’ aggrandizement of him, tries to dissuade him. Judas is worried that the anti-Roman fervor and willingness to proclaim Jesus king will result in a backlash that will harm not only all of his followers, but many other Jews as well. He betrays Jesus to the priests, who are in league with the Romans and want Jesus gone. 

Apostle (Shauntal Pyper), Mary Magdelene (Allie Milburn) & Jesus (Bruce Haasl)


The rest, as they say is history – well, at least religious history – as Jesus becomes overwhelmed trying to help the sick and poor, is comforted by Mary Magdelene (Allie Milburn), has a last supper with his apostles, and eventually is taken, whipped, and crucified by the Romans.

The cast, in all its glory 

The very large ensemble cast, including dance captain Jill Heinecke, who must have had her work cut out for her, was tight, and impressive. In particular, the almost non-stop dance numbers were inventive, visually stunning, and bristling with all the energy and pageantry of a three ring circus. There are too many cast members to call out individually, but the ensemble certainly deserves a bow.


All this played out on Blake York’s stunning set ringed with metal tube grids holding huge shards of glass-like plexiglass surrounding a gigantic raked, horizontal cross that spans both the width and depth of the stage. Abetted by an ever-changing, strobing, multicolored light show (Niclas Olson) and props by Jeffery Weaver, who was also responsible for hair and makeup, it is, in a word, dazzling.   

Annas (Karen Christnesen), Priest (James Klarich), Judas (Loucas T. Curry), Priest (George McClure),Caiaphas (Aleks Merilo)
The costuming, by Michele Graves, was equally brilliant, and ran the gamut from priests dressed to the nines in matching suits and red power ties, to characters spanning a range of styles and periods including hints of Babylonian dancing girl,  modern grunge, 70’s era hippie, and even Hawaiian shirt casual.   

Harem Girl (Melanie Gladstone), Herod (Andrew Fry), Harem Girls (Caiti Burke) & (Shauntal Pyper)

The one opening night glitch, apparently caused when the sound program crashed earlier, was an out-of-balance and overly loud musical score. As a result, it was often hard to understand the lyrics, except for the three strongest vocalists in the cast, Jesus (Hassl), Mary (Milburn) and Peter (Christopher Sweet.)  

Yes, this property has been done a lot over the past 47 years, but TLT’s version most certainly holds its own, and is a visual and audio delight for its audiences. Not surprisingly, the packed house on opening night absolutely loved it. As a bonus, managing director Chris Serface revealed all the plays that will be in TLT’s upcoming 100th season during his curtain speech. There’s a lot to look forward to.

It’s a fairly short play (two 45 minute acts) and the intense pacing and energy makes it seem even shorter, but crammed in to that timespan is as much color, light, song, dance, beauty, and energy as you can ever hope to ask for.

Jesus Christ Superstar
March 9 to April 1, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre
https://www.tacomalittletheatre.com/


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