Thursday, June 15, 2017

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR • The Muny

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album was released in 1970, it was a big deal. Considered blasphemous by some, Superstar depicts the last week of Jesus of Nazareth’s life through a contemporary lens. The Muny’s 99th season opener proves that this pounding rock opera still resonates, incorporating themes of political activism with an absorbing score full of recurring musical motifs.

Lloyd Webber’s got a reputation for punishing his singers, and Superstar is no exception. Luckily, the leads are strong-voiced, starting with Tony nominated Constantine Maroulis of “American Idol” fame as Judas Iscariot. The opening number, "Heaven on Their Minds”, beautifully sets the narrative that centers more around Judas than Jesus -- he’s fearful of the growing fame Jesus is garnering, and the possible wrath this might bring down upon the Jews, and Maroulis makes a blazing first impression.
Judas Iscariot (Constantine Maroulis).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
He plays all of the angsty bits well, and delivers powerful vocals, but more often than not, he incorporates a ton of back phrasing when he sings. Now that’s fine, until its over use starts to affect the "story" of the songs themselves by changing up the rhythm too much. Overall though, it’s a solid performance.

Bryce Ryness is vocally and physically agile as Jesus of Nazareth. Ryness gives a quiet strength to his portrayal -- fierce in his convictions, exhausted by the demands that are placed on him, and weighed down by the knowledge of his fate. His “Gethsemane” is potent, defiant and sad.

Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
The show gives a real voice to Mary Magdalene, played tenderly by Ciara Renée. Mary’s world is rocked by Jesus, and while she’s undeniably attracted to him (on a few levels), she just wants to give him comfort, and becomes increasingly worried about his path. Renée lends beautiful vocals to "Everything's Alright” and "I Don't Know How to Love Him”.

Ben Davis is excellent as the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. His solid baritone informs his power, though he’s a man who doesn’t want any unnecessary trouble if he can avoid it. Nicholas Ward’s rumbling bass also gives weight to his character, Caiaphas -- the high priest of Jerusalem, who wants to shut all of this Jesus business down. Along with his fellow priest, a more level-headed Annas (a wonderful Mykal Kilgore) they deliver an ominous "This Jesus Must Die”. Christopher Sieber is King Herod, a role typically played flamboyantly for laughs, despite the dire circumstances surrounding his big number, "King Herod's Song”. In it, Herod taunts Jesus, daring him to produce a miracle. In this production, the song is musically couched within Tom Jones’ “It's Not Unusual”, which is kind of awesome, and Sieber plays it to the hilt.

Mary Magdalene (Ciara Renée).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Paul Tate dePoo III’s knock-out scenic design features wire fencing, steel catwalks and stone archways, lit by Nathan W. Scheuer’s moody lights. Nice work also by costume designer Tristan Raines, who outfits the hippie disciples in gem-tones, the Romans with red armbands with the officers in military attire, and Jesus in white. Jon Rua’s choreography was especially keen, including a variety of styles, but leaning heavily towards hip-hop, executed sharply by a proficient ensemble. The orchestra, under the direction of Colin Welford, performed the beloved score superbly.

Pontius Pilate (Ben Davis) and Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
If you’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar onstage, now’s the time. If you have seen it, this production is worth a revisit. It’s playing until Sunday.

Incidental thoughts
• The first influx of Muny kids happens during “Hosanna”.

• Keep an eye out for the Andy Warhol-styled illustrations of Christ. Very impressive in person.


JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
through June 18 | tickets: FREE - $95
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Caiaphas (Nicholas Ward).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Cast
Jesus of Nazareth: Bryce Ryness
Judas Iscariot: Constantine Maroulis
King Herod: Christopher Sieber
Mary Magdalene: Ciara Renée
Pontius Pilate: Ben Davis
Caiaphas: Nicholas Ward
Annas: Mykal Kilgore

Ensemble
AnnEliza Canning-Skinner
Susie Carroll
Andrew Chappelle
Zach Erhardt
Dionne D. Figgins
Atiauna Grant
King Herod (Christopher Sieber).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Phillip Johnson-Richardson
Sean Harrison Jones
Jose-Luis Lopez Jr.
Douglas Lyons
Gabriella Mancuso
Brianna Mercado
Fergie Philippe
Shelby Ringdahl
Akilah Sailers
Maria Cristina Slye
Daryl Tofa
Voltaire Wade-Green

Creative
Choreographer: Jon Rua
Musical Director/Conductor: Colin Welford
Scenic Designer: Paul Tate dePoo III
Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Costume Designer: Tristan Raines
Lighting Designer: Nathan W. Scheuer
Sound Designer: John Shivers and David Patridge
Video Designer: Greg Emetaz
Wig Designer: Leah J. Loukas
Production Stage Manager: Cody Renard Richard
Assistant Stage Manager: Willie Porter and Eric Elz
Artistic Director and Executive Producer: Mike Isaacson

Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
The Muny Orchestra
Violin: Tova Braitberg (Concertmaster), Nancy Chow, Beth Hoffman, Julie Leonhardt and Nathan Banks
Viola/Violin: Susanna Woodard (Principal) and Wendy Lea
Cello: Antonio Innaimo (Principal) and Nathan Hsu
Bass: Adam Anello (Principal) and Terry Kippenberger
Woodwinds: Mike Buerk (Principal), Elsie Parker, Robert Hughes, Nancy Summers and Nicholas Pyles
French Horn: Nancy Schick (Principal) and Steven Hanrahan
Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Harp: Cherilyn Trusty
Trombone: Tom Vincent (Principal) and Tyler Vahldick
Trumpet: Andy Tichenor (Principal) and Vicky Smolik
Tuba: David Unland
Percussion: Jerry Bolen (Principal)
Drums: John Brophy
Guitar: Steve Schenkel

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