I don’t love the show Jesus Christ Superstar but I like it, I love several of the songs. The last time I saw a production of JCS was in a church in South Minneapolis and I’m sorry to say this production for all it’s money and production values falls short of that production. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. That’s a relatively short run time, so why was I thinking just kill him already at the one hour mark? I’m not sure what it was, I see that this revival has won some major awards, so there must have been something there once. Maybe the spark has died, perhaps they actors are feeling like they should have reached the end of the tour by now. You know the story is loosely based on the Gospels and follows Jesus through the last weeks of his life focusing on his relationship with Judas Iscariot. Most of which, there is no basis for but it’s a rock opera and it makes for an interesting take on an old story. I went to Sunday school as a child and I’ve seen films about this time period and know the broad strokes quite well and can follow what is being represented throughout the show. My companion for the show was raised in a religious home but had no Sunday school and has never seen a film about Jesus. The thing is, with this production, maybe with all productions of this show, if you don’t know the basics, this show doesn’t give them to you. The Production assumes you know the story of Christ beyond the bare fact that he was the son of God and was crucified on a cross. It assumes you know the Apostles, who Judas was, what he did, and who Mary Magdalene was. All of these things are assumed. I didn’t even realize that until we were discussing the show afterwards. My companion thought this was probably the worst show she’s ever seen. I wouldn’t go that far, but I knew what was going on. Maybe the show doesn’t have to work for people who don’t know the story of Jesus’ last days. Shouldn’t a show work without beforehand knowledge? How is this show going to work for the generation coming up now? Sure a lot of them still go to Sunday school, but I bet if you asked the churches around town they would let you know that while the population in the country has increased the number of people, attendance in church has decreased. You don’t have to be a statistician to draw the conclusion.
I didn’t feel this cast was committed to this production or capable of it. There are several good singers Jenna Rubah as Mary and Eric A. Lewis as Simon are the best. But Rubah doesn’t seem to know the role she is playing. She sings well enough, but she is smiling throughout two of the best songs “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and these are not songs her character should be smiling through. The result is a nice performance of the songs but no acting, no character. But somehow that’s better than Aaron LaVigne as Jesus and James Delisco Beeks as Judas, who seem to remember to act, but suspect they need a rest.
The production Design by Scenic designer Tom Scott and lighting design by Lee Curran are the best part of the show, a little basic but an oversized cross on the floor that is used to throughout the show is dynamic looking. The Choreography by Drew Mconie did nothing for me. Honestly when Jesus’ followers are dancing around I suddenly pictured the kids in the orphanage in Annie singing “It’s a hard knock life”. I don’t know who deserves the criticism for the portrayal of Jesus as a hipster, I suspect that falls on the director Timothy Sheader. If that is their attempt to update this show for the 50th Anniversary, it needed more than that and the other smallish bones it throws out to try and make it seem modern and hip. After seeing this production I think the only way this show can be relevant again is to completely reimagine it. Instead of trying to make it contemporary, I think they should go the other direction and make it more of a traditional musical than it has ever been. It was designed originally to be a rock opera performed as a concert, not as a musical. Someone needs to turn it into a real musical, using the same songs. The original songs were not broken, but embody the show with real emotion and actually tell this story so that someone who doesn’t know it already can learn it. Perhaps add dialogue if needed, there is a lot going on in these songs, but you have to know who the characters are and what their relationships are in order for the inherent emotions in them to play correctly.
Jesus Christ Superstar Plays through Sunday January 26th at the Orpheum theatre in Downtown Minneapolis, for more information or to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/jesus-christ-superstar-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2020/.