Many people attest that Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1971 Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is some kind of a classic. I do not share such belief, but, as far as I can tell, Pittsburgh CLO’s resurrection sounds and looks faithful to the original conception. I’ve seen it only once before, in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Ken Gargaro’s 2006 goofy take, which had almost as many laughs as Mel Brooks’ version of The Last Supper. I thought then, and continue to think, that’s it’s a bizarre. mixed-up piece of theatre. But who’s to thrice deny that producers can count on faithful followers, suffering little children and their parents to come unto them, laying out riches to witness the rite?
Certainly director Charles Repole has made tellingly graphic, disturbing and moving the final cruelties to Christ. And the large cast comes across with solid portrayals, singing and dancing in this nearly sung-through product with Doug Kreeger’s take on Jesus both sympathetic and believable. Josh Tower’s Judas, though, throughout seems an empty shell. FYI: many local performers are in the ensemble,
Verily, lest ye not know already, this deals with one week in which the Gospels tell of events leading to the Crucifixion. The book, evidently by Rice, albeit not credited, gives equal weight to the eventually equally dead- by- suspension Judas, suggesting that he too is tragic. That’s probably the most original take on the story. But there’s also the image of Christ as human rather than God-like while Pilate’s scenes make him look weak and indecisive and Herod is presented as a buffoon. There are other elements with original perspectives. So, this is no ritual telling of the story.
Musically Webber mostly favors generic rock but also gets into a couple of other styles, including music hall and something symphonic, none of it particularly interesting. Rice’s lyrics, meanwhile sound pretty obvious, sometimes so patent that they become funny. As for the overall style, howling and wailing is standard delivery. Hardly subtle.
I found quite dopey the title song delivered as if a rock act with microphones and elaborately coiffed back-up singers. Huh?
As for the title, I understand that this is sometimes staged in contemporary clothing with Christ depicted as a hippie. Here the cast wears a mixture of styles. A harmless way to make a point about universality.
The whole thing could have been much more inventive. Spinning off of “superstar” which suggests a performing icon of the genre, all that Webber and Rice have done is feature rock songs. But this could have been about Christ as a traveling rock star whose gigs consist of him preaching in song, with backstage stories dealing with how he relates to his retinue and groupies. And as for Christ’s betrayal and eventual eclipse, that could have been done by making the villains record producers with the Crucifixion symbolic rather than realistic, or have someone sabotage his sound setup to electrocute him.
But then Rice and Webber didn’t ask me what I thought. And, if you already find this show a masterpiece, you’d not care what I think either. All kinds of people come up with all kinds of interpretations of this story. Jesus Christ! Why not?
Jesus Christ Superstar continues through August 14th at Benedum Center, Downtown. Tickets at 412/456-6666 or pittsburghCLO.org