When "Jesus Christ Superstar" opened on Broadway in 1971, it had already sold over two and a half million record albums. It had also been done by dozens of touring companies as a "concert" version (full orchestra, cast in street clothes, without sets, props or choreography, just stage lighting and fully miked with hidden microphones.
After hearing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's thrilling "Rock Opera" album I was totally hooked, and when I saw Yale Drama School's "concert" version I was totally sold on this incredible theater experience. So, when the word came out that they were going to do a fully-produced Broadway musical version, I ordered my tickets ASAP. Oh my god, was I ever disappointed, the Tom O'Horgan (director/choreographer of the super hit "Hair") adaptation was totally over the top and because of that totally phony and meaningless, it had neither heart or soul. I was devastated and the Hollywood movie version was even worse. Nevertheless, when my daughter's high school did their "concert" version I loved this "Rock Opera" again. That having been said, I was most curious to see the Broadway Palm's 186th production of another full rendition of "Jesus Christ Superstar." This incarnation directed and choreographed by the ever so talented Amy Marie McCleary and her handpicked talented cast is in a word "awesome" and I do mean awe inspiring! McCleary uses simple, moveable sets, unpretentious costumes; and yet McCleary somehow manages to set the stage ablaze with action which fill the Palm's stage with color and movement acting as a perfect frame for the talented cast to perform in.
Webber and Rice's intention was clearly to place Christ's betrayal and death in the "last seven days in the life of Jesus" in a vernacular more immediate to our present time; and boy does it ever work when it is not cluttered up with sequins and overwhelming sets. This simplified version is far more relevant and resonates with today's audiences.
In this "Rock Opera" version I'd have to say that Judas is the starring role, since it is psychologically far more arresting and convoluted. This role was masterfully portrayed by a baritone named Chasdan Ross Mike. This young man is simply superlative on all fronts singing, acting, moving with an intense vitality that is arresting, and yet this character's reflective moments are beautifully nuanced.
Jarret Jay Yoder invests his portrayal of Jesus with loving compassion and humility, while at the same time his characterization has an ability to depict righteous anger and command. In other words a very valid representation of a very complex and challenging individual.
Outstanding performances were also given by:
Ilana Gabrielle - Mary Magdalane
T.J. Bolden - Caiaphas
Benjamin Neumayer - Pilate
Hassan Nazari - Robati-Herod
And a member of the dancing cast Donovan Hoffer as Simon who hit it out of the park, performing "Simon Zelotes"/ "Poor Jerusalem."
Bottom line, this Broadway Palm version of Jesus Christ Superstar "rocks" and is the best musical version of this rock opera I've seen to date. It is full of compassion, passion and extraordinarily moving; with an all-around great cast and impressive direction/choreography by Amy Marie McCleary.
So, thank you one and all for making Jesus Christ Superstar a super evening of live theater that is going to wow a whole new generation of theatregoers. Get on that list of thrilled theatre-goers by phoning the box office now, at (239) 278-4422 for tickets. Remember when you phone to tell 'em Marsha sent you.