REVIEW: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Denver Center

by Isaac Rosen

I went into the Buell Theatre on Tuesday in the middle of what was for sure the biggest snowstorm we have had yet this year. I was very much in the mood to be cozy and watch some theatre. I had very little knowledge of this musical of Biblical proportions and was unsure of what to expect. I brought my roommate with me who had never seen a musical in her life so whatever the evening was bound to be I knew it would be a new experience. Basically, I only knew it would be about Jesus Christ, a man whom I was very familiar with during the formative years of my life. I tried to leave all my preconceived notions about what a show like this could be and I was not disappointed.

Jesus Christ Superstar tells of the last week of Jesus’s life in rock opera formatting. It is one of Andrew Lloyd Webbers best known scores with lyrics by Tim Rice. The show was first professionally staged in 1971, years before another Lloyd Webber classic, Evita, although I did find striking similarities in both story and score.

This particular production was put together to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the show. With fresh direction by Timothy Sheader, powerful energetic choreography by Drew McOnie, Sparse utilitarian scenic, hair and costume design by Tom Scutt this modern production breathes life and relevance into this old chestnut.

When the curtains first open you cant help but take in the barebones set by Tom Scutt made up of a two leveled structure of steel beams and adorned with trees.  The lighting is dark and a smoke fills the air. A lone electric guitar stands on the second level and begins the show with a solo. The whole thing feels like a hair band video. This definitely sets the tone that this is more than a mere musical but a full fledged rock concert made to thrill.

As the show moves along, the creative team uses clever metaphors to tell the epic saga. One that particularly stood out to me was the directors use of gold glitter as a motif. During the first half of the show, gold glitter is used as a symbol of celebration and peace. After Jesus heals the lepers he is bathed in gold glitter representing oils by disciples. When he arrives in Jerusalem golden glitter falls from the sky and fills the air to beautiful effect. By the end the glitter is being used to much more devastating effect as Jesus receives his 39 lashes he is pelted by glitter bombs leaving him a bloody glittery mess, it’s beautiful.

The use of handheld microphones help lend to the renegade rock feeling of the production. Leading a young and sexy cast is Aaron Lavigne as the titular Jesus. Lavigne’s Jesus is lacking in charisma during the first half of the show. What he lacks in charm he makes up in good looks, Lavigne is tall, white and blonde with blue eyes, which makes it slightly more apparent why he may have amassed so many followers. Typical. His performance really picks up steam during the gut wrenching “Gethsemane” scene. It is during this pleading ballad that Lavigne fully embodies the rock star that is Jesus Christ.

There can be no superstar without a proper Judas. Lucky for this production they have found the perfect renegade in James Delisco Beeks. Mr. Beeks uses his emotive eyes and crystal clear voice to bring a kind of earnest concern to the role that gives the first half of the show some direction. It was truly an inspired performance. Judas is a man driven mad by his own choice and the actor truly brings that arch to vivid life. Other cast standouts include Chelsea Williams portraying a grounded yet subtle Mary and Garfield Hammonds as the imposing, statuesque yet somehow compassionate Pilate.

Overall I feel this production was an immense success and a can’t miss for not just fans of the show but novices and those unfamiliar with the material.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is enthralling audiences now through December 1st at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center Complex. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Box Office by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.

 

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