THE BASICS: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, an early (1970) musical in the careers of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Matthew LaChiusa, has SOLD OUT all shows (but rush tickets are often available) through March 31, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. (with extra performances Wednesdays March 21 and 28 at 8:00) at “The 330 Performance Space,” (adjacent to The Sportsmens Tavern) 330 Amherst St. (697-0837). www.artofwny.org Runtime: Two hours with one intermission. Assistant Director: Catherine Burkhart. Music Director: Donald Jenczka.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: With a run timed to end during Holy Week (leading up to Easter Sunday) this popular musical has legs, and has fans, not only for the great music but also for the story of an outcast faith healer and his vagabond followers who are passionate but not particularly loyal, including one of the disciples of Jesus named Judas. The musical follows the events of Jesus’ last week ending in his crucifixion.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The current production stars Anthony Alcocer (last year’s Artie Award winner for lead actor in THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT) as the troubled Judas, Christopher Teal as a bit-too-much-flower-child-for-my-taste Jesus, Candice Kogut as a star-struck Mary Magdalene, Casey Moyer with her incredible big voice as Simon Zealot, Nick Lama surprisingly effective as Pontius Pilate, Eliot Fox as Caiaphas, and a very scary Gary Andrews Steglitz as Herod. If you see any of those names attached to future productions around town, I would make an effort to attend.
By the way, if you are interested in knowing more about the last week of Jesus, you might try reading THE LAST WEEK by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.
Religious Backgrounder: Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday (March 25 this year) recalling Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem during The Passover, when neither the Jewish authorities (Herod) nor the Romans (Pilate) were at all pleased with his rebellious message which was upsetting the status quo. The story continues to Maundy Thursday with the Last Supper followed by Jesus’ betrayal to the authorities by his disciple Judas in the Garden of Gesthemene. On Good Friday (Good for mankind, not so good for Jesus) we remember his horrific death by crucifixion. The musical ends there. Holy week ends on Holy Saturday, a time for reflection, which is represented in American Repertory Theater’s production by the audience exiting the theater somewhat in a state of shock.
Easter Week follows Holy Week and begins on Easter Sunday (April 1 this year) when Christians “proclaim the Resurrection to celebrate that even death cannot separate us from God’s grace.” But, that’s not at all what this musical is about. It’s not about pie in the sky and the glorious hereafter. It’s about the gritty here and now.
Many people have asked me about this production, as in “how was it?” to which I say “it was great! Very different, very ART, and even though it’s ‘sold out’ you should try for rush tickets.” So, let’s talk about the Production Crew, et. al. if you don’t mind, because they really made this show what it was.
Readers of my reviews know that I have pretty high standards when it comes to the pit orchestra/band and the four musicians (in really cramped conditions under/behind the stage) were superb: Donald Jenzcaka (keyboards), Nick Carello (drums), Jay Wollin(bass) and Jared Tinkham (guitar). And speaking of the stage, Thomas LaChiusa’s set, with Matthew LaChiusa’s direction, really added. There is a “Movement Consultant” credit for Carly Luksch and while I’m not sure what that is, I can tell you that people were rushing in from upstage, running up from the audience downstage, and were jumping from platform to platform left and right without any collisions or awkward moments. Pretty impressive for a local production, which was very effectively lit by Katie Ludwig using some snazzy programmable lights, with an usual but effective eclectic mix of costumes and masks, credited to Elaine Heckler.
I have to admit I was skeptical that a small local production could deliver the goods. Fear not. They do.
Having seen the great Ted Neeley in the title role in both the 1973 movie of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR as well as Mr. Neeley live in a touring production, I have to admit I was skeptical that a small local production could deliver the goods. Fear not. They do.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!