JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR50th Anniversary Tour (Rock Opera)
Broadway at the Bass
Music By: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics By Tim Rice
Loosely based on the Gospel’s account of the Passion
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Music Supervision—Tom Deering
Music Director/Conductor—Shawn Gough
Scenic Design – Tom Scutt
Lighting Design—Lee Curran
Sound Design – Keith Caggiano and Nick Lidster
Costume/Hair Design – Tom Scutt
Fight Direction—Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet
CAST (in reviewed performance)
Simon—Eric A. Lewis
Herod—Paul Louis Lessard
Mob Leader—Sarah Parker
First Priest—Brian Golub
Second Priest—Garfield Hammonds
Third Priest—Darrell T. Joe
Soul Singers—Quiana Holmes, Jenny Mollet, SandyRedd
Peter’s Accusers—Brian Golub, Garfield Hammonds, SandyRedd
Ensemble—David Andre, Giuliana Augello, Wesley J. Barnes, Hope Easterbrook, Brian Golub, Brittany Rose Hammond, Garfield Hammonds, Quiana Holmes, Darrell T. Joe, Sheila Jones, Jacob Lacopo, Eric A. Lewis, Paul Louis Lessard, Tommy McDowell, Jenny Mollet, Sarah Parker, Erick Patrick, SandyRedd
Reviewed Performance: 7/12/2022
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The success of the album "musical" led to stage productions. “JCS” is a musical dramatization of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, beginning with his entry into Jerusalem, and ending with the Crucifixion. It has inspired many adaptations-from a film version 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison (filmed in Israel) and even joining the bandwagon of resurrected (please pardon the terrible and inadvertent pun) network television broadcasts of live musicals. In 2018, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” was broadcast on Easter Sunday with John Legend in the role of Jesus, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, and legendary, original “shock rocker” Alice Cooper in the role of Herod.
I have always had a love for this particular album. It was a tradition in my house while growing up that my father (an avid audiophile and my music “professor”) and I would listen to the original album on the eve of Easter Sunday. I never realized at the time how influential this would be for my love of music, and how much it fueled my passion for musical theatre. On a side note, I continue this tradition and think fondly of my Dad. To me, Easter means a spin of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on the turntable.
Not only was it a veritable hit as an album, but it also has a variety of other unique characteristics that set it apart from other musicals. “JCS” ran for eight years in London between 1972 and 1980 and held the record for longest-running West End musical before being overtaken by another famous little Webber musical, you know as “Cats.” Another attribute that makes this musical unique is the repetition of the melody in many of the songs with different lyrics, and thematic tones. I never really noticed it until seeing this performance at Bass Hall on Tuesday night. Very much ahead of its time, “JCS” truly is a unique musical, and has inspired the sounds of many of the modern rock operas that are on stage today. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a re-telling (loosely based) of The Passion story, exploring the last days of Jesus and centering around his relationships with Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot. The show begins in the late stages of Jesus’s ministry and focuses on Judas’s growing distaste for the movement, his betrayal of Jesus, and Jesus’s subsequent crucifixion. No prior knowledge of the story is necessary to enjoy the show. However, having a basic understanding of the events will help audience members follow the story while watching the spectacular visual elements of the production. The story of Jesus Christ may be timeless, and “Jesus Christ Superstar” helped to pave the way for other concept albums of the 1970s.
Director Timothy Sheader was successfully able to bring this “reimagining” of “Jesus Christ Superstar” to the Bass Hall stage on Tuesday evening. I use the word “reimagining” to describe this production as it is not what audiences might expect to see in a stage production of this musical. This production is presented very much like a modern rock concert-with visual images and representations of the characters, setting, and theme told in a very abstract way. I have seen “JCS” once on stage before this production, and it was very much presented in a very conventional manner (period-appropriate costumes, and scenic designs) with the contrasting rock music sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice from the early 1970s. This production brings a very contemporary vision to the stage, which compliments the score perfectly.
It is apparent to me that Sheader’s vision for “JCS” was to pay as much tribute to the original 1970 concept album. The use of hand-held mics and mic stands set the mood for a traditional rock concert (even though the company did utilize body mics) and the rock concert “vibe” stays consistent throughout the entire performance. There is no intermission in this production, and the company barrels through 90 minutes with full force and a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm. There was never a dull moment, and each musical number comfortably segues from one to the next allowing the 90 minutes to go by extremely quickly. The pacing was constant, and from the moment the recognizable electric guitar riff opens the overture, chills, and goosebumps take over. Then, add the horn section…and thus, more goosebumps….
Another unique feature of Sheader’s vision for this production is a very dark color palette on the stage and in costumes. It is really difficult to pinpoint exactly the period of the story, but it has the feel of a post-apocalyptic world. The use of gold glitter for “39 Lashes” and anointment oil (“Everything’s Alright”) further added to the modern ambient feel of the production. All in all, I was hooked from the moment the overture began, watched intently, and sat on the edge of my seat from the beginning to the final blackout. One of the most accomplished elements of this production was its phenomenal use of choreography. Choreographer Drew McOnie delivers in this role. The choreography was avant-garde and was extremely energetic throughout each musical number. From the rock anthems to the ballads, the choreography and movement complemented the vocal and instrumental performances in the performance. It was constantly entertaining to watch and was an excellent visual representation of the theme and message of the lyrics, while symbolically helping to share Sheader’s overall concept and vision.
Designer Tom Scutt successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into the necessary locations within Jerusalem with simplicity and ease. Assisting with Sheader’s “post-apocalyptic” approach, the set had a very industrial and cold look. It was a multi-level set (with the musicians permanently stationed on the second level) and present throughout the entire production. Upon closer examination, each section of the set was a cross-a foreshadowing of what was to come. Additionally, a large cross-shaped ramp provided another visual of levels for the ensemble to use. I especially enjoyed seeing the staging of “The Last Supper” tableau on the cross ramp. It was an extremely moving stage picture. In one of the final moments of the story, it was incredible to see a cross “appear” from the ramp. It was breathtaking and left me speechless with its symbolism.
The lighting was designed by Lee Curran. The lighting enhanced the scenic design. The lighting was dark and somber, but, also, highlighted characters and songs of importance and symbolism when needed. Examples of this include the opening electric guitar riff in the overture and the final moments of Judas and Jesus as the story ends. It was exciting to see the pieces in the double-level set illuminate into a sea of three-dimensional crosses (again in a foreshadowing technique). It had the feel of a concert and complimented the scenic and costume designs. Curran’s lighting design was appropriate for each musical number and helped to further the feel of the modern vibe of the period.
Costumes were designed by Tom Scutt. (Scutt certainly took on a huge creative task while working on scenic and costume designs with this production.) As previously mentioned, there was not a definitive period. It was very dystopian. I feel like it matched the feel of the concept of a live rock concert. There were some fabulous materials used in some of the costumes (King Herod’s gold jacket and boots-think rock ‘fashion’ icons Billy Idol or David Bowie) and the Guard masks used in certain scenes as needed with Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and Herod. The static, non-animated masks were threatening and unsettling- serving to accentuate these moments throughout the production.
Aaron LaVigne was incredibly believable in the role of Jesus. Through facial expressions, body language, and an incredibly powerful voice, LaVigne filled the vast space of Bass Hall, and I mean filled the Hall. LaVigne belts out several notes with ease throughout the production-leaving the audience is impressed with each song. His portrayal of Jesus takes us through such an incredible journey from beginning to end and shows off LaVigne’s versatility and range of emotion on stage. I enjoyed seeing him play guitar throughout moments in the story. I felt like this further added to the concept of a live rock concert on stage. Omar Lopez-Cepero was fantastic in the role of Judas Iscariot. Lopez-Cepero certainly delivers in this role. He captures the attention of the audience from the moment that “Heaven On Their Minds” begins, and his performance stays constant throughout the production. Lopez-Cepero takes audiences on his journey as Judas and allows us to experience each detail of the story up close. Lopez-Cepero’s tenor voice was always spot-on, constant, and full of energy.
Jenna Rubaii brought down the house as Mary Magdalene. Dubai has a phenomenal set of vocal pipes that complimented Aaron LaVigne and Omar Lopez-Cepero’s voices. Dubai took one of my least favorite songs from the production (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”) and easily changed my mind. Rubaii’s rendition of the ballad was very powerful and moving. Rubaii’s voice was easy to listen to and was a nice contrast to the male-centric voices around her. Rubaii’s delivery of the vocal ballads was a soft and enjoyable break from the hard-driving rock music used in other parts of the production. Brava!
By far, the best performance of the evening was Alvin Crawford in the role of Caiaphas. Crawford’s deep voice was so smooth that it rivaled even the deepest range of Barry White. It was very pleasing to the ear. On the other hand, his character was extremely difficult to like. Crawford did a wonderful job delivering the vocal content (very reminiscent of Victor Brox in the original 1970 concept album) and created a character that was evil and so unlikeable. Crawford commanded the stage and contrasted nicely with Tyce Green (in the role of fellow Jewish Leader, Annas) in “This Jesus Must Die.”
This production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is worth seeing. The concept of this production makes for an entertaining and electrically charged performance of music and theatre. From the moment the music begins, you will be drawn into Sheader’s dystopian world from Biblical history. “JCS” is haunting and mystifying all at once. This is one of those productions that is significant and memorable to music and theatre history. This 50th Anniversary Tour of “JCS” is one that you do not want to miss. Not only are you listening to a superb score by two of the greatest musical theatre collaborators of all time, but it has earned its place in musical theatre history. However, it is so different than the musicals that audiences are seeing on National Tours right now. “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happening?” Find out for yourself at Bass Hall in Fort Worth with the 50th Anniversary Tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Time is extremely limited.
One of my favorite lyrics from this musical (“Herod’s Song”) sums up this review appropriately: “Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here…you are all we talk about…the wonder of year…” “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Bass Hall. That’s the buzz.
50th Anniversary Tour (Rock Opera)
Broadway at the Bass
Bass Performance Hall
4th and Calhoun Streets, Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Plays through July 17, 2022.
July 13-17 at 7:30 pm
July 16 and 17 at 1:30 pm
Jul7 17 at 6:30 pm