Theater Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (National Tour)

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by William C. on November 11, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours

JESUS TRADES SOUL FOR A MAN BUN

While the the 50th anniversary tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar is still finding its footing in this truncated version (90 intermissionless minutes), Timothy Sheader’s 2016 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production was greeted warmly by patrons at Segerstrom Hall, the tour’s kickoff point after being stalled by COVID. The tour has actually been in action well before this year, but it’s the same production as before, with much of the same cast, including the hunky emotionless white-bread Jesus (Aaron LaVigne) who paired rather well with the many Orange County unmasked Karens in the audience. The show’s results overall are mixed.

The fantastic character performances in smaller roles included different rock persona presented in delightful ways. Paul Louis Lessard’s Elton John-esque over-the-top King Herod strutted down a flattened cross on his 3-inch high-heeled boots and golden cloak, earning him a raucous ovation. Tommy Sherlock’s Pilot captures a punk rock personality (Billie Joe Armstrong mixed with a little Adam Lambert) while his emotional vocal range and diction made his songs come off with precision and clarity.

Jenna Rubaii’s performance as Mary Magdalene is stunning. She performed the iconic numbers “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” with practiced precision and wonderful colors in her voice.

Anyone would want to be swooped up by the wonderfully executed rock belting of LaVigne and James T. Justis as Judas. LaVigne begins the show seemingly confused by the guitar that he picks up, which he placed down rather quickly, then proceeded to perform the rest of the show with as little visible emotion as possible. He seems to genuinely want to embody the character but comes off as a lost boy on stage. Justis’s performance on the other hand comes off as over the top in comparison, which somehow diminishes the necessary steam in the famous suicide scene. Sure, every now and then LaVigne will go into a sonorous belting note to create that American Idol moment to match Justis but these belts don’t feel earned or cared for. The two male leads also lack melodious transitional materials with both pitch and rhythm. Another issue is chemistry. There is a general shapelessness in-between the iconic moments, which leads to a flat emotional journey.

The design elements are effective, especially the replacement of glitter for the whip, which is thrilling and quite campy at the same time. The dipped silver hand of Judas is terrific and reads really well. The Roman sculptural face masks of the ensemble gives that necessary ancient air, a nice droll contrast to costume designer Tom Scutt’s Gen Z flowy prêt-à-porter costumes.

Lee Curran’s lighting and Sheader’s staging on the other hand are handled with less care. Choreographer Drew McOnie’s opening dance is meant for a bigger stage; the ensemble comes off looking cramped. The wonderful facial expressions from the ensemble are lost in the dark lighting. My husband pointed out what looked like missed light cues. Whether that was by design or not, the show needs brighter colors.

Tom Deering’s 11-piece orchestra is on their game. I do wish there was a little more instrumental in the mix: The winds come off a little cold, especially the clarinet. For the crucifixion scene, the improvising piano needs more volume. Otherwise, the band is tight.

The thoughtful design, exciting choreography, shit-ton of glitter and yes, that hunky Jesus should be sufficient to have you thoroughly entertained, so I do recommend the show. However, you will not find that raw emotional journey in this colder, pop-cultured infused production.

photos by Matthew Murphy

Jesus Christ Superstar
national tour
Work Light Productions
reviewed at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, (ends at Segerstrom Nov 14 2021)
then tour continues; for dates and cities, visit JCS

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