Theater Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR (New Cast for 2022-2023 Tour)

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by Maddalena Beltrami on December 31, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


I still have the soundtrack album that I bought when I was 14. I saw the movie when I was 16. I saw the Broadway Revival in my late teens. Today, just over fifty years after Jesus Christ Superstar premiered on Broadway, I had the pure pleasure of seeing it again at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. It’s a mash-up of rock concert stadium staging, lead actors holding microphones, music video, and Broadway-style production values and voices. With Shawn Gough’s astoundingly tight music direction, Drew McOnie’s hot-blooded aerobic choreography, Lee Curran’s magical dramatic lighting, Tom Scutt’s modern set and costumes, and a beautiful blend of vocals by an immense ensemble, this Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 2016 production — updated for a 21st-century audience — is the closest thing you’ll get to heaven. It’s a fantastic production that mostly gets it right given the uneven casting.

Jack Hopewell and the company of the North American Tour
of Jesus Christ Superstar

There are 80+ recordings of JC Superstar from over a dozen countries, not one of which in totality tops the original 1970 Concept Album. This North American tour, which runs well into 2023, returns to that raw street-wise power, and elucidates the timelessness of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, still his best. Never intended to be an accurate portrait of Christ’s passion, the story is lyricist Tim Rice’s idea of what Judas’s thoughts and motivations may have been, not a Biblical portrayal at all.

Brett Hennessey Jones as Simon and the Company

Interestingly enough, as much as I loved it, the three leads are somewhat disappointing — if, that is, you are expecting a blend of rock star vocals and great acting. It may be the fault of Timothy Sheader’s direction, which gives Jesus, Mary, and Judas scant sense of backstory and relationship, of which there is precious little to begin with. The leads play second fiddle to the melee and get somewhat lost. Maybe Sheader — who wisely dropped the intermission — thought any of that would get in the way of his hurtling high-voltage trajectory. Thus, Jack Hopewell’s Jesus — complete with man bun — simply isn’t asked to blow you away like Ted Neeley or Steve Balsamo did. His tenor is lovely and lyrical, and his expressiveness and unique vocal timbre are awesome, even as he is better suited for pop. Maybe his interpretation is supposed to be less threatening to the current mood than a tall Jesus with long locks that rocks his torment. And Faith Jones as Mary was all wrong for the part in stature and looks and definitely in voice. — a beautiful lush high range is needed for her songs.

Faith Jones as Mary

Still, Elvie Ellis plays the betrayer with a perfect blend of Broadway chops and show biz savvy, even as he lacks distinction. Beeks is particularly dramatic in “Damned for All Time” (when accepting his cash for ratting on Jesus to Caiaphas) and in “Judas’s Death” when his guilt and grief ultimately consume his life (with the help of a noose, here a dangling orange mic cord). When he comes back from the dead, there’s enough super-rockin’ dynamism — and seriously tight back-up Soul Girls L’Oréal Roaché, Savannah Fisher, Lydia Eku — to make you get a ticket to come back (there are many cities for this tour, but runs are painfully short, most a week, so act fast).

Isaac Ryckeghem and Kodiak Thompson

It’s the smaller roles that blew me away, and I could hear every lyric from Isaac Ryckeghem, who is not just slimy as Caiaphas, the High Priest of Israel, but he snatches those low bass notes and spears them through the back of your head. Kodiak Thompson turns the manipulative, bullying priest Annas into a Mordred-like villain, and Nicholas Hambruch is thrilling as Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea.

Elvie Ellis and Isaac Ryckeghem

Mr. Scutt’s set design has a runway-like crucifix, especially effective when Caiaphas and his cronies crack down on Christ, and the orchestra is on levels behind the playing area. The main themes here — power struggles, control, greed — are remarkably clear, visceral and palpable. There is the 21st-century nail gun used instead of a hammer for the cross scene, and, as if to thrust us into the modern age’s divide between the haves and have-nots, Mr. Sheader has his players hurl sparkling gold dust at Jesus to represent each lash he receives. It’s a coup de théâtre, one of many in this most admirable revival.

photos by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Jesus Christ Superstar
national tour
Work Light Productions
reviewed at Hollywood Pantages October, 2019
tour continues into 2020; for dates and cities, visit JCS

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pam January 28, 2024 at 8:11 am

Saw it in Denver January 2024. I kept expecting the set to surprise me. But it was one of those raw sets where nothing moves, which I always find disappointing in a professional show. It looked good, but man I would have been thrilled if that big cross that they used as a stage rose up at the end. Nothing. I didn’t feel like there were too many standout performances and the choreography felt so robotic. I think all the singers holding microphones was weird and added to the music video vibe which I can see them going for, but it wasn’t working for us. Pilate, Caiaphas, and Judas were very good. I had never seen it live before, and didn’t really understand the point of that one dancer who stood out from everyone else and kind of thrusted her arms dramatically at everyone who was singing. What did she represent? I loved the silver-stained-hands idea for Judas. Mary didn’t have the passion I expected. I’m glad I saw it, but it didn’t wow me. Maybe they need to go back to its hippie/disco roots with the next revamp.


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