“Hosanna! Hosanna!” to be back in a (nearly) packed theater once again to enjoy the spectacle of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
The 50th anniversary tour continues at the Kennedy Center through March 13 and this interpretation is one of the most impactful and imaginative yet.
Playing up the theme “Superstar,” the energetic, and at times frenetic, pace of the show leads one to believe they’re witnessing a revival, a rock show and newsreels of the Beatles coming to the U.S. before screaming, hysterical fans rolled into one.
This show pulls out all the stops to make it clear that Caiaphas is right: “Jesus is cool!”
Also keeping with the rock star theme, the show is a 90-minute concert with no intermission and no pauses for a breath or a prayer. From the moment the low bass rumbles the audience to take their seats for showtime, the full sensory experience draws you into the Galilee of Judas and Jesus where the audience has scored seats to the hottest show in town.
As the bass diminishes, viewers are blinded by a cross, blazing enough to make everyone squint and shield their eyes, yet there is no place else to look! The brilliant cross dims and the cast runs onstage through the audience as the familiar guitar riff kicks off the show.
We see Jesus, performed wonderfully by Aaron LaVigne, certainly looking the part of a Renaissance Christ gone hipster. He’s blonde, blue eyed and he looks like someone who could surely make all the girls go wild.
Judas, as portrayed by Omar Lopez-Cepero is a visual contrast. Dark eyed and dark haired, dressed in black and far less flashy than the heartthrob Jesus, Lopez-Cepero brings an impeccable voice and fully embodied the torn and confused disciple.
Concerned with the mission, Judas can’t reconcile the teacher he follows with the superstar with fawning legions surrounding him. But with this cast, I believe it.
LaVigne appears at ease with the crowds and comfortable with his disciples and even with the Pharisees and eventually the Roman leaders, Pilate and Herrod. He is the son of God. Others may call him the “King of the Jews” but he moves and sings with the confidence of one who knows his true mission.
As essential to the performance cast is the choreography of Drew McOnie, whose frenzied and frantic, unceasing dancers tell the story of what’s happening whether as part of the mob of Jesus’s followers, or as small groups or individuals, experiencing the moment before the audience.
Mob leader Sara Parker is a genuine treasure who dances the story’s opening and keeps dancing until the curtain comes down at the end of the performance. While diminutive in stature, she moves as the individual drops of a hurricane making landfall: as beautiful and precise as she can be hard and violent.
McOnie’s skill at conveying grand themes and feeling through his choreography are realized in Parker. Throughout the show, the dancers blind themselves with open palms and spread fingers as they either adore Jesus or condemn him. Meanwhile, their literal blind obedience echoes their emotional blindness and results in a touch of artistic mastery.
Every performer in the cast is a standout. From Jenna Rubaii’s Mary Magdalene and Alvin Crawford’s Caiaphas and Tyce Green as Annas, there is no performer in this production who doesn’t absolutely nail their role. A special treat comes from the background singers who undulate in a sirens’ chorus and punctuate that while this is a religious play, they equally recognize that spectacle is a thing.
Besides, this is a rock concert, remember?
Paul Louis Lessard’s King Herod, gold resplendent with the eyelashes fit only for a drag queen, is camp personified! His over the top declarations to “Prove to me Christ, you’re the Great Jesus Christ!” are matched only by his wardrobe and the sheer cheek to pull off such a performance.
There may be no more perfect time to point out the excesses of fame and notoriety than in this modern, social media time but this 50th anniversary tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” drives home the spirit of the gospel more deftly than one might expect.