The 50th anniversary national tour of the iconic rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR has landed at Broadway San Diego, where you can catch this passion play through Sunday, November 17th.
Based on the original concept album, this reinvention of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR focuses on the music to give the feeling of a concert with smoke, multiple spotlights, hand held microphones, and energetic dancing that has a more modern and athletic feel than past performances. These are deliberate choices by director Timothy Sheader who wanted the music, and the emotion of that to take precedence before the plot.
The plot has not changed; it’s the last days of the life of Jesus (Aaron LaVigne) as told by his most dedicated apostle Judas(James Delisco Beeks). Judas is starting to think Jesus is starting to believe a bit too much of his own hype.
Judas also is affronted by the close relationship Jesus has with Mary Magdalene (Jenna Rubaii). It’s not her profession he objects to, it’s just that she doesn’t really fit in with the teachings of Jesus. (Judas misses the point of that whole “he who is without sin” vibe Jesus preaches)
LaVignine as Jesus has some very strong vocals. He also has a man bun, a guitar, gets a beer when he needs to chill out, and he probably makes his own kombucha. He’s not like a regular Jesus, he’s a cool Jesus.
Beeks as Judas has some outstanding vocal moments, especially in “Damned for All Time” when conflicted over the deal he has just struck to turn over Jesus. Rubaii has as sensitive turn with “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Alvin Crawford and Tyce Green are particularly strong as dastardly and scheming priests Caiaphas and Annas, along with Tommy Sherlock as an excellent Pilate.
As good as the vocals are though, the focus on the concert performance means that the character connections and relationships feel lacking, making the declarations of love and the betrayals less impactful overall.
The show has a very Coachella rock concert, modern, and industrial hipster vibe. The costumes, hair, and scenic design are all designed by Tom Scutt with an industrial platform of varying levels, in juxtaposition to the sleek hair, partially shaved heads, flowing hoodies, layered tank tops, baggy pants, and sneakers of the costumes.
With their dramatic capes, decorative staffs that double as microphone stands, and coordinating choreography, the priests are a villainous boy band in the best possible way.
Though the winning costume and scene stealing moment goes to Paul Louis Lessard as Herod, who is a glam rock, gold and glitter bedecked drama king, with all the accessories – including John the Baptist’s head at the top of his mic stand. (Where is this characters musical life story? I am all in)
The music is as loud and kinetic as any rock concert, and the music is excellently played by the band. Concerts are not usually known for their enunciation, and this is no different with it sometimes being difficult to hear the actual words being sung.
Adding to the concert details and atmosphere, glitter rains down from the sky, everyone has handheld microphones (with some mixed results in effectiveness), and a speaker stands turn into the crucifix to which Jesus is affixed.
Glitter appears with a frequency in this show, everyone bow your heads for a moment of appreciation for the stage and wardrobe crew who have to deal with that clean up every day.
This show is an energetic and fun concert version of the show, with some very strong vocals. Reactions may vary on this edgier production value depending on how devoted to the original theatrical versions they have seen.
As evil priest Annas sings “Don’t rely on subtlety,” and this show definitely takes that direction to heart. But then again how subtle can a rock opera about the death of Jesus as told by Judas truly be?
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is playing at Broadway San Diego through November 17th. For show time and ticket information go to www.broadwaysd.com