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Jesus Christ Superstar

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

What now to do about Jesus Christ Superstar—parable, musical, ’70s kitsch? Conceived as an album, then moved to the stage in 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s pop opera is a motley union of high and low: classical strains and rock riffs, biblical storytelling and savvy spin, timeless story and somewhat dated telling. Rice’s libretto takes straightforward versions of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate—and, until the end, Judas—and transplants them into the potted soil of post-Warholian media celebrity. “What’s the buzz?” ask the Apostles. “One thing I’ll say for him: Jesus is cool,” concedes the high priest Caiaphas. “Prove to me that you’re no fool,” Herod taunts Christ. “Walk across my swimming pool!”

Des McAnuff’s Broadway revival, imported from Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, is powerfully sung, strikingly designed and almost totally humorless. Paul Nolan’s Jesus is especially careful in this regard: Handsomely leonine and blessed with a preternatural screech-tenor range, Nolan plays Jesus with one long “haunted, hunted” look; he’s an eerily passive cult leader, prone to occasional bursts of extreme-vocal anger. Josh Young’s Judas, more sensitive and sensual, seems locked in a subtle love triangle with Jesus and Chilina Kennedy’s well-acted Mary; Tom Hewitt seasons Pilate with the actor’s usual heavy-lifting acumen. Only Bruce Dow is allowed to go comic in Herod’s overtly campy (and vaguely homophobic) number; otherwise the production is as serious as church. And although McAnuff’s approach leads to occasional moments of deadpan by default, it brings Jesus Christ Superstar’s serious side to blazing life. The dramaturgy groans, but the music sounds terrific and the stagecraft is often inspired.—Adam Feldman

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