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Jesus Christ, Hesitating Superstar

I only ask things I'd ask any superstar. What is it that you have got that puts you where you are?" King Herod

Jesus cradled by Mary

Photo: IU Separtment of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

Jesus Cradled by Mary

Event Information

Jesus Christ Superstar

music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, conductor and choreographer George Pinney, music director Brandon Porter

Ruth N. Halls Theatre

November 4-12, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is at IU’s Ruth N. Halls Theatre.

The musical began as a concept album in 1970. The staging in 1971 follows the album format. It’s sung through with no spoken dialog. The work is very much a piece of its time with rock, gospel, and folk influences. It followed the musical Hair in 1967 and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and the Beetles “Revolution” both from 1968.

The IU Theatre’s show is the swan song for director choreographer George Pinney. The production simply revels in exploiting the strengths of the cast from the program that he’s been building for thirty years.

The opening with Brian Kress as the disciple Simon leading the male dancers is a wildly energetic and lovingly choreographed homage to the ground breaking dancing of the Jets in West Side Story.  They’re clearly in the battle for their turf and though the black clad authorities that scatter them are from two thousand years ago and look nothing like Officer Krupke, I think that the enforcement figures would understand one another.

Meadow Nguy is Mary, a sympathetic supporter of Jesus with lovely performances of “Strange
Things” and the shows hit “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Joey LaPlant was the gravel voiced high priest Caiaphas who declares “This Jesus Must Die.” He was ably supported by Christian Fary as Annas and Mary Beth Black who added some strong high notes to their trios as a second priest.

The action of Jesus Christ Superstar continues at a fast pace with dramatic scenes as Jesus cleans the temple of debauchery and money changing, celebrates the last supper, is betrayed by Judas and arrested.

Scott Van Wye was the controversial figure of Pontius Pilate. In his initial meeting with Jesus, he’s very much an ironical speaker, even lapsing into an almost comical rhyming as he turns him over to King Herod.

Pontius Pilate’s interview ends with an amusing touch and it was more than exceeded by Chris Handley’s appearance as King Herod. Clad in a glittering Blue tuxedo with a matching sextet of show girls, choreographer Pinney builds the scene to a wonderfully comical Charleston.

Following these very funny scenes, seriousness returns. Miles Tillman who as Peter has thrice denied Jesus is filled with remorse and he and Mary do a very nice country tinged “Could We Start Again Please?”

Judas, Caleb Novell, hangs himself. Pilate, now far from funny has Jesus lashed. As Pilate counts, the whip cracks and Reuben Lucas’s projections add more and more blood spatter covering the floor and the walls of the whole set. The crucifixion though lacking any mention of resurection is dramatic and concludes with Christ’s death.

Throughout Jesus Christ Superstar Andrew Minkin was a sympathetic figure in the lead. Webber and Rice’s Christ is a complicated figure. He continually talks of the toll of the three years of his ministry, simply tells those seeking healing that he can’t do it anymore and suggests that he’s lost in inspiration. A bit more of a burned out rock star than heroic sufferer.

The show’s Judas is an even more complicated figure. Caleb Novell handled Judas’s anger at what he sees as Christ’s failure, his tortured acceptance of the thirty pieces of silver and suicide very well. Webber and Rice do a bit of undercutting of the whole saga as the actor playing the rough Judas reappears all smoothed up to lead the cast in the show’s final celebratory number.

The massive single set is by Kevin Nelson. Dramatic lighting is by Mathew Wofford. The wonderfully varied and very theatre worthy costumes are by Robbie Stanton. Sound design is by Andrew Hopson.

The audience warmly applauded the finale and the curtain call. It’s the final IU production for George Pinney, and he chose to let his cast of students with student music director Brandon Porter take the show’s bows.

IU’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar continues in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre November 4-12, 2016

At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker

George Walker

While completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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  • Daniel Dabney

    At the first showing last Friday, my companion and I both found that we could understand only about 10% of the lyrics. Presumably something about the sound has been fixed, or I don’t know how George could have followed the story well enough to write the review.

    Perhaps the Ruth Halls theater is a challenging space acoustically–this is not the first time I’ve had a hard time understanding what was said or sung there. But the sound for JCS was the worse I’ve heard.

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