BY SARAH PETREA SCHULTZ
Jesus Christ Superstar has been one of my favorite musicals for years, and the 50th anniversary production at the Orpheum Theater did not disappoint. On the contrary- it was a thrill from the first lonely guitar riff to the last unresolved chord.
Music Director Shawn Gough and the orchestra handled Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s score excellently. Joe LaRocca stunned during the “Damned For All Time / Blood Money” tenor sax solo, flying between the instrument’s highest and lowest notes.
Drew Mconie‘s choreography served the story while adding character depth and visual spectacle. With massed, synchronous movements, the company formed Jesus’s devoted cult. After Jesus chastised Judas in “Everything’s Alright,” the crowd leapt toward Judas with low centers and swinging limbs like a group of defensive apes. During “Pilate and Christ,” the dancers became a frantic mob screaming for Jesus’s death. Quivering, extended hands punctuated swooping fists and stomping feet to unnerving effect.
Choreography and direction also brought a delightful new energy to the Priests’ numbers. The robed figures entered with the anticipated weight and gravitas, but then they flipped their staffs upside down, turning them into mic stands. Suddenly these five powerful and self righteous figures were a malevolent boy band, like the Temptations but bloodthirsty. They lunged and swiveled their stands from one side to the other. Caiaphas (Alvin Crawford), Annus (Tyce Green), and the three other priests struck the perfect balance of camp and menace. Crawford anchored the group with his creamy bass tones, while Green bit into the high notes with delicious precision.
Although the trope of casting a white man as Jesus and a black man as Judas is growing stale, Aaron LaVigne and James Delisco Beeks played well as Jesus and Judas. Beeks brought a refreshing softness to Judas. He made the character less edgy and more desperate, someone who is trying to be the voice of reason in a sea of hysteria.
Paul Louis Lessard dropped jaws with his performance as Herod. He first appeared in an enormous golden robe, which he shed in a flourish to reveal a gold sequined leotard over black tights. His face was painted white, with bright blue eyelids and sweeping lashes. Lessard‘s vocal and physical performances completely matched his gaudy costume. He pranced about the stage with his equally golden and garish courtesans, threatening Jesus with every ounce of charm and schmaltz in his wiry body.
Two other intensely high energy performers were Eric A. Lewis as Simon and Sarah Parker as Riot Girl. Lewis worked the company into a lather during “Simon Zealotes.” Parker embodied the frenetic follower. Her ritualistic lunging, leaping, and swaying tracked Jesus throughout his final days.
Director Timothy Sheader closed the show with a poignant final tableau. Jesus was lowered from the cross. Everyone but Judas left the stage. Jesus stood stage right of the inverted cross platform, Judas stood left. As the final notes faded, the lights dimmed, and the smoke settled, the two men met eyes and slowly sat on opposite arms of the cross. This quiet, intimate moment between Judas and Jesus illuminated all of the hurt, tension, and love between these two characters. It proved a powerful ending for a raucous musical.
This production honored the show and it’s 50 years of history while offering fresh twists and insights. Jesus Christ Superstar delivered a spectacular evening of theater at the Orpheum.
Jan. 21-26, 2020. Visit hennepintheatretrust.org or call 1.800.982.2787 for tickets and more information.