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Shinn review: Jesus Christ Superstar

I am frightened by the crowd
For we are getting much too loud
And they’ll crush us if we go too far
If we go too far.
ó Judas, “Jesus Christ Superstar”
By Susan Shinn
Salisbury Post
CHARLOTTE ó He is King of Kings. He is Lord of Lords. He is my all in all.
He is Superstar.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” played for packed houses Tuesday and Wednesday evening at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte.
It doesn’t matter how many times you experience Holy Week ó the Passion of Christ is excruciating.
But this production, combining pulsating, rebellious (and very loud) music of the late ’60s, a stripped-down set and two powerful principals made for a memorable evening.
At age 30, Ted Neeley played the title role in the movie version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This production, booked through 2009, marks the second time he’s reprised the role ó which means he’s been associated with it for more than half his life.
It would be hard to imagine anyone else as Jesus. Neeley fully inhabits the role, bringing a real humanity to Christ.
Playing the role of Judas since 2006 in this tour is Corey Glover. Glover was a member of the band Living Colour, and it’s interesting to note that one of the band’s biggest hits was “Cult of Personality.”
There has been no bigger cult of personality through history than Jesus Christ.
But Judas is angry with his Lord. The crowds are growing too big and Jesus’ fame is spreading so fast. Judas believes that Jesus actually thinks he’s the new Messiah.
The story and music are familiar. Many songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” were popular in the early ’70s.
It’s amazing that the music, composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber with lyrics by Tim Rice, can swing so abruptly from being so joyous to so filled with hate.It’s a tribute to this duo that the music has held up so well over the years, and is relevant today.
Because the set is so bare ó with only a few risers and a suspended walkway across the middle ó the production relies on lighting to set the mood.
Whenever Judas or the priests are present, red lighting makes them more evil and ominous.
In the movie, the role of Caiaphas, the high priest, was played by a man with a low, low bass voice. In this production, Darrel R. Whitney continues that tradition, making the Belk Theater vibrate with his rumbling voice.
Not only is his role demanding vocally, the rest of the male actors must exhibit quite a range.
The last major Blumenthal production this spring was “Wicked.” In that, theater-goers learned how the Wicked Witch of the West got to be so evil. There are interesting parallels between the two productions.
No one is truly all good or all evil, and this was certainly the case with Judas.
This role is much more layered that even that of Jesus. Judas loved Jesus, but he was afraid, and he knew what had to be done, and he turned him over to be killed.
Only then did he realize what he had done.
Another intriguing role in the production is that of Mary Magdalene, played by Tiffini Dodson.
Maligned by the church for centuries, Mary Magdalene has also been the recipient of some revisionist history.
The truth about her may never be fully understood, but in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” she’s portrayed as Jesus’ caretaker and most adoring and devoted follower.
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was another hit from the movie, and Dodson performs it beautifully here.
Another nice number is “Everything’s Alright,” in the feel-good mode of the late ’60s.
“Let the world turn without you tonight,” Mary Magdalene tells Jesus.
He responds that she’ll be sorry when he’s gone.
That’s the key ó like us, Jesus knows exactly what will happen to him, and, after a mighty struggle, finally goes willingly.
“Then I was inspired, now I’m sad and tired,” he sings at one point.
The crucifixion scene is brutal and painful to watch. Those who were crucified died from suffocation. When you see this recreated on stage, it is heartrending.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” ends with the crucifixion, but you know that’s not the end of the story. Thank God.
Other standouts in the cast include Craig Sculli as the anguished Pilate and Aaron Fuksa as the hilarious, way-over-the-top King Herod. In the House of Herod, you feel like you’re in the Copacabana when you see Herod’s harem of showgirls.
It’s the juxtaposition of anachronistic touches that make “Jesus Christ Superstar” so provocative.
The story never grows old and “Jesus Christ Superstar” will move audiences for years to come.
Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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