THEATER REVIEW (WSAU) “They just did that,” is one of the first things I heard when Jesus Christ Superstar was announced as part of this year’s Wausau Community Theater season. Actually it was seven years ago. And, back then, everything fell into place. Word of mouth was outstanding. Box office was strong. It’s one of the few WCT shows that I missed, and I’ve been told it was one of their best.
Not much has changed since then. Jesus Christ Superstar is attractive to would-be cast members for auditions; almost everyone who grew up in the 70s knows the music. This is still be a popular ticket for church youth groups. It’s no secret that this play was picked, in-part, for economic reasons. The bottom line looked good in 2006 and a reprise was asked for via WCT's audience survey. Ultimately, seats must be filled. Expenses are rising, performance rights are expensive, and attracting a big audience is only way to make the ledger balance. 40-years later, this still qualifies as a “hip” musical. There’s no reason not to expect it won't all happen again.
You'll know right away that a good cast has been assembled. Judas is the complicated role. Sir B. Ugly had me convinced right after he sung "my mind is clearer now..." that he was both a strong and expressive singer. He gets the lead vocals in the "Super Star" sequence and leads the company through a visually striking finale. Much of the story is told from Judas' view, forcing to consider familiar material from a different perspective. This is the lynch pin of the entire evening, and it's very well done.
The role of Jesus is actually much more straight-forward than Judas. Zachary Wilde is a good singer and looks perfect on-stage, particularly in the momerts when Christ must appear conflicted - which is the critical expression that must be summoned often.
Many of the supporting roles are well done. Jason Zell's Pilate is visually haunting and well-delivered. Jeff McDonald brings the right touch to "Herod's Dream". There's no joy to found in playing Caiaphas, but Michael Wasilczuk has an excellent sense of timing. Dan Flees' guitar-playing was the orchestral highlight of the evening.
I have special praises for Cindy Kearns as Mary Magdalene. Far too often I've seen this part given to a Broadway songbird who's asked to deliver gentle, haunting lyrics. The multiple New York and London cast albums mostly fall into this trap. Even original singer Yvonne Elliman is too polished to get the material right. Kearns has a rougher, raspy voice -- and she's a much better fit. Mary Magdalene isn't a blushing violet. Unpolished edges are needed, and, finally, that's what we get.
Over time, lyricist Tim Rice has come to see the stage version of his rock opera as off-the-mark, saying Jesus’ humanity is emphasized over his divinity. Rice said Jesus is depicted as “the right man, in the right place, at the right time,” which is remarkable for someone who wrote the words. Actually, Rice is wrong. Whether you accept the divine Jesus is a question of faith. What to make Jesus’ humanity is open for discussion. Judas sees Jesus as a human charismatic who’s come off the rails. Mary Magdalene, who knows too much about the ways of men, is certain there’s something different about this person. Her singing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” has always, for me, been a high point. When well-sung, she almost asks the audience the question, ‘what do you make of him?’ That's more thought-provoking than you'd expect from a rock opera.
Among other things, I make this out to be a very good night at the theater.
Here is an archive of past theater reviews from around Central Wisconsin:
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (Nov 9, 2012)
CAMELOT (Oct 26, 2012)
ANNIE (Sept 4, 2012)
LEGALLY BLONDE – THE MUSICAL (Aug 2, 2012)
A CHORUS LINE (Jun 21, 2012)
DR DOLITTLE (Mar 17, 2012)
A CHHRISTMAS CAROL – 2011 (Dec 18, 2011)
MAN OF LAMANCHA (Nov 6, 2011)
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (Oct 23, 2011)
OKLAHOMA(Sept 8, 2011)
EVITA (Aug 8, 2011)
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (Jul 23, 2011)
SMOKEY JOES CAFE (Jun 23, 2011)
KISS ME, KATE (Apr 17, 2011)
HELLO DOLLY! (Mar 11, 2011)
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Feb 18, 2011)
A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2010 (Dec 17, 2010)http://wsau.com/blogs/post/cconley/2010/dec/18/review-christmas-carol/
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Nov 4, 2010)
PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Sept 17, 2010)
MISS SAIGON (Aug 8, 2010)
RENT (June 18, 2010)
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Mar 5, 2010)