Review: Jesus Christ Superstar 50th Anniversary
When you hear the name “Jesus Christ” and you immediately think of groovy 70s aesthetics in a desert, then you probably know of the timeless musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the modern revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is playing at the Bass Concert Hall as a part of their Broadway at the Bass series, and I had the pleasure of seeing the show with two of my childhood friends who are also die-hard JCS fans.
Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from the hit musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Let me just start off this review with my biggest take away from the show: the combination of the lighting design plus the dynamic choreography creates such momentous energy that the musical becomes a spiritual experience. The dances of the ensemble give movement to the emotional and spiritual conflict between the main characters, while the lighting design encompasses the wide spectrum of soft, warm glows and violent, neon crosses.
The relationship between the dancers and the technical crew sets the powerful background for the spectacular performances by the actors and musicians. These production elements, plus the giant cross laid out over half the stage acting as a dynamic platform, delivers the weight and force necessary for the retelling of the crucifixion of Christ.
My friends and I were sitting on the top balcony and our bird’s eye view had me feeling like I was God anytime Jesus started singing to Him. Overall I was grateful for our far-out seats because of this all-seeing phenomenon we experienced and I could focus on the unity of the visual and musical aesthetics.
Even though I had no idea what anyone’s face looked like, I was still able to appreciate the modern fashion and attractive looks served up by Jesus and his followers. Jesus would fit in perfectly in the streets of downtown Austin, and the acoustic guitar he carries around completes his youth-pastor aesthetic to perfection. The grey-colored outfits worn by Jesus, his disciples and the ensemble create a material medium that allows the bodies on stage to seamlessly transition from individual to unified in dramatic or subtle ways.
I’ve always adored the relationship dynamic between Jesus and Judas, especially when there are close-ups in the film where they hold intense eye contact during the climax of a song. I was worried that I would miss the heated tension between the two men, but Aaron LaVigne (Jesus) and James Delisco Beeks (Judas) do not fail in capturing the ever-shifting emotional dispositions, that I believe are crucial to express, leading up to the infamous betrayal. From his first song “Heaven On Their Minds” to his last song “Judas’ Death,” Beeks embodies the hurt and tenderness that makes Judas’ perspective so undeniably honest and human.
Alvin Crawford (Caiaphas) and Tyce Green (Annas) complement each other in both stage presence and aesthetic, creating a constant back-and-forth dialogue that authenticates the political spiral from oppressive control into corrupt monopolizing. Tommy Sherlock (Pilate) and Paul Louis Lessard (Herod) are, quite literally, badass rock-opera stars. Pilate’s punk get-up plus his electrifying riffing on his electric guitar in direct contrast with Jesus’ acoustic, hipster musicality, which is a constant representation of the underlying moral battle between Jesus’ teachings and Rome. King Herod, who had the most scandalous representation in the 70s film, did nothing but exceed my expectations with his song in which he essentially humiliates the stoic Jesus with his excessive glamour and untouchable agency.
Glitter, and silver in general, play a big part of the visual aesthetics of this rendition of JCS. When Judas sells out Jesus, his hands are forced into an ominous chest and they emerge covered in a coat of silver that stains Judas’ hands for the rest of the show. When the masses start to turn on Jesus, a woman covered in glitter appears at times of tension, chaotically dancing by her lonesome in a rhythm unique to her. The glitter and silver start to overshadow the subtle greys creating a visual snowball that leads up to the lashing of Jesus. Pilate counts the 39 whips and the actors go one-by-one taking turns throwing handfuls of glitter hatefully across Jesus’ back. Each slash of glitter is violent and Jesus crumbles with each hit, and though it is painful to watch, you don’t want to look away.
Jesus, tattered, torn and covered in glitter is finally crucified. The giant cross that has been acting as a dynamic stage piece dramatically centers itself and rises up with Jesus pinned to the top. Light floods into the audience and I have to squint to see anything at all. The air is heavy as the band creates eerie sounds and the cries of Jesus are as inescapable as the shining light.
I left the show giddy and extremely satisfied and I bought a shirt that says “Damned For All Time” from the merch booth. It’s exciting being able to watch a live, modernized version of one of my favorite rock operas and I’m grateful to have been with my two friends. Of course, we immediately watched the 70s JCS as soon as we left the venue so we had an excuse to continue gushing about our passion for the show.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” has a powerful legacy as a rock opera and the performances done by the actors, musicians and technicians, plus the underlying support from the show’s logistical designers, all contribute to the revival of this timeless story with creative insight and bold declarations.
You can find tour dates and buy tickets on their website.