Director Keith Baker who celebrates his 30 years as Bristol’s Artistic Director pushes the envelope without going over the top for Bristol’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Bristol Riverside Theater presents a dramatic and visually exciting take on “a global phenomenon that has wowed audiences for over 40 years. Jesus Christ Superstar is a timeless work set against the backdrop of an extraordinary and universally-known series of events but seen, unusually, through the eyes of Judas Iscariot.” ~ Jesus Christ Superstar website.
Having seen the staged production twice on Broadway, three times regionally with such iconic actors/singers as Ted Neely (the original Jesus on film), Danny Zolli as Jesus, Kevin Gray as Pilate, Tony Vincent as Judas as well as Rock star Sebastian Bach as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas and many more, well, you never know what to expect when a theater mounts this epic sometimes controversial rock opera.
The first thing to puzzle the Bristol crowd is the 25 foot stage totally covered wall to wall with white steps. So perhaps this is going to be very dramatic or a disaster or both! Fortunately and thanks to the talents of Choreographer Stephen Casey this entire cast was really on their toes, carefully placed for every scene and song. The steps were treated to some very high tech lighting and projections by Joe Doran and John Hoey that enhance each scene as they scroll over the steps.
The cast, from the mop -headed Patrick Dunn (Jesus) who is a marvelous Messiah to Adam Kemmerer (Judas) who is the show-stealing snitch to Ciji Prosser ( Mary Magdalene) who warms the heart, each bring out their best and they simply dazzle! Dunn’s “Gethsemane”, which every die-hard JCS demands perfection, possess a ‘got-to-hear-it-to believe it ‘voice sustaining his money notes to the next level.
Kemmerer’s Judas is a magnet of madness and frustration. Ciji Prosser captures Mary Magdalene so realistically. Her “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” was one of the sweetest most vulnerable versions I’ve seen and heard. Standout performances are offered by Julian Alvarez (Simon Zealotes) and Derrick Cobey (Peter), who also sings the touching “Could We Start Again Please? duet with Mary Magdalene. The stern Caiaphas was strongly played and sung as deep as any baritone as I’ve heard by long-time actor Steve Steiner.
The 15 piece orchestra cleverly almost hidden top left of the steps aptly handles the 25 rock song made famous by the incredible Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Such favorites include “Heaven on Their Minds”, “Hosanna”, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, Gethsemane”, Could We Start Again Please?”, “King Herods’s Song”, and of course “Superstar”.
Baker’s strong directional moments are seen in his many choices; the focus on Mary Magdalene’s big solo number staged and spotlighted sitting alone as she wipes off her lipstick and tears off her wig to expose a vulnerable woman changed by her affection for Jesus. The sick, blind and lame appearing in ghostly white veiled cloth begging Jesus to heal them adds a dramatic touch. “King Herod’s Song” and scene is a flashback to a Ziegfield Follies Revue. (I found it amusing at the reactions from this somewhat older perhaps new to JCS audience seemingly unsure of some of goings on at times). Pilate (Darren Ritchie) is presented as a modern-day typical rich business man, who plays golf during the persecution of Christ. The fact the actual crucifixion is never seen yet heard and felt quite dramatically. I was wishing that a resurrection would take place…but we all know the true story!
All in all these actors were completely up for the task of the show on the steps and Keith Baker’s gut feelings for his Superstar proves “Everything’s Alright” about this production.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR plays at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, Bristol Pa. through April 16. For tickets and information visit www.brtstage.org call 215.785.0100.
Production Photo Credits: Mark Garvin
Pati Buehler (Broadwayworld.com) and Derrick Cobey (Peter)