James Delisco Beeks and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Without a doubt, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite musicals of all time -- which is why, when I found out the 50th Anniversary Tour was coming to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, I had to be there opening night.
And I might be back again before closing night.
I'd read somewhere that this was "not your grandmother's production" of JCS. This worried me -- I tend to feel underwhelmed by shows that are too modern and full of fantastical effects.
But that's definitely not the experience I had. Director Timothy Sheader put together a show that, to me, felt more original than the original.
Before last night, I'd seen several productions of Jesus Christ Superstar. Each felt -- not surprisingly! -- like a musical. In a theater. I was moved by the rawness in the lyrics and the tension in the music, but I very much felt like I was in a theater.
Last night, I felt like I was in an arena.
Which is actually exactly how the show was written.
After their success with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to write another biblical musical -- but from the perspective of Judas. According to Webber, every theater in London told them this was "the worst idea ever."
So instead, they wrote a rock album, and cast rock stars, like Deep Purple's Ian Gillian.
The album became incredibly popular. Like, "topped the US Billboard Pop Albums" popular.
Only then did anyone want to produce it as a musical. But, fun fact: Andrew Lloyd Webber hated JCS on Broadway. We've all come to love it as a musical... but that's not how Webber saw it.
Knowing this, I couldn't help but think, "This 50th Anniversary tour is more original than the original."
Even characters that are normally softer and more sympathetic (Pilate, Mary) had a hard, rockstar edge.
Aaron LaVigne, Tommy Sherlock and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
But this isn't why I'm hoping to catch a second performance later this week. And it's not the stellar casting of the Judas and Jesus roles.
The reason I want to go back... is Herod.
After Paul Louis Lessard, who is making his National Tour debut, stormed off the stage after "Herod's Song," my jaw dropped.
What the hell just happened?
The performance and theatrics were amazing -- but I think part of the shock came from seeing this song -- which is one of the few songs form the show originally written in the Broadway style -- played so arena rock.
Jenna Rubaii put on an incredible show as Mary. I'm pretty sure I have never preferred any revival over the original cast recording -- but about 20 seconds after she started singing during "What's The Buzz?" I started wishing I'd grown up listening to her.
Same with Alvin Crawford in the role of Caiaphas. Of course, I was excited for him to open his mouth the moment he came on stage, as the character is known for his growling bass (contrasted by his annoying tenor underlings). But Crawford's bass brought a new level of depth, feeling, and excellence to lines so low, I can only sing them two octaves up.
Eric A. Lewis brought an incredibly energetic Simon who made me want to get up and dance, even though his message is one of the great ironies of the show -- and it prompts one of Jesus's more philosophical moments.
All the while, the Soul Girls and ensemble were augmenting the feel of each scene, whether through sensual hip rolls or manic arm movements. The energy flowed through their whole bodies, and even through the tips of their hair.
Aaron LaVigne and Jenna Rubaii and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Having seen this meaner, bigger, arena production doesn't diminish the joy I've had watching the show performed as a musical...
But I'm happy to have finally witnessed the version Rice and Webber had in mind from the conception.
Get your tickets from Broadway San Jose -- and don't wait! The show is only in San Jose through Sunday evening:
If live theater is beyond your price range, sign up for the $25 ticket lottery.
If you have the tragic misfortune of missing the San Jose production, you might be lucky enough to overlap with the JCS Tour on one of its next stops:
And don't forget to mark your calendar! Broadway San Jose has some incredible shows coming up this season. Waitress, which I've never seen but have heard great things about, hits the stage this December, and Les Miserables, the Tony Award-winning phenomenon that tops so many theater geeks' lists, is coming April 21-26, 2020.
But, by far what I'm most excited about -- it's not till June, but I'm already counting the days -- is Come From Away. I saw it on Broadway last January, and I can honestly say:
1. I have never heard so many laughs during a monologue.
2. I have never heard so many stifled sobs in a theater.
3. My jaw literally dropped at curtain call. I looked at the guy next to me, and his jaw had dropped, too. We stared at each other silently for several seconds, speechless, before I finally stammered, "I think that might be the best musical I've ever seen.
4. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days.
So seriously. Go see Jesus Christ Superstar RIGHT now. And mark your calendar for June.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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