Theater Review: Mike Webb's 'Jesus Christ Superstar' a radical departure

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In his notes “From the Producer/Director,” Mike Webb describes his adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar as a production “staged with a large portion heavily influenced by the Japanese Noh tradition and my work with Michael Chekhov’s approach to acting.”

The result, a stilted, often puzzling interpretation of the last days of Christ’s life on earth. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera, first staged in 1971, shocked its audiences and became a huge hit. The intensity of a contemporary score and the beautifully sung lyrics brought the reality of Christ’s life to a whole new audience. Mel Gibson’s Passion attempted to do the same thing, but became a media fluke.

The curtain opens…four industrial towers center the stage. Christopher D. Brady as Judas and Daniel Pansegrau as Jesus stand in the center. A deep-toned drum beat begins, and the cast, garbed in modern dress, but all in black with a bit of white, march across the stage in a geometric pattern. Risers at the rear of the stage seem to have a metallic hue, and upon reaching their destination, the entire company strike a variety of poses and freeze in position. Brady sings “Heaven on Their Minds” and the play begins.

The passionate lyrics lose their meaning when performed in a setting reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. The constant linear staging impels us to focus on only that aspect of the work. As the apostles sleep, Judas comes to betray Christ; the priests and soldiers stand in the eternal line. The glory of the life of Christ disappears, and only death remains.

A bright spot… Kevin White, who played Jesus in the spectacular Guilford High School production, is Simon Zealotes, and his solo gives us the memory of his outstanding performance. Ed Prochaska is Pontius Pilate, and he, too, displays a vocal range and ability perfect for his role.

Herod, played by Christopher Berndt, arrives on stage in a hot tub!!! His girls emerge from the steam and perform a non-exotic dance. Usually, Herod’s bit evokes laughter. This joke fell completely flat.

Much more could be said, but inevitably a comparison must be made with Leslie Biesbrouck’s sold-out performances at Guilford. Everything in that creative project is superior to the RVC production.

The season continues at Starlight Theatre, and I’m sure loyal subscribers will continue to attend. This play will be presented again July 13-17. For tickets, call the box office at 921-2150.

From the June 15-21, 2005, issue

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