At the rococo 1930’s Pantages Theatre, Work Light Productions presented Regents Park Theatre London Production of Jesus Christ Superstar in its 50th Anniversary Tour. There is plenty to be awestruck about, in this active, sumptuous, primal production of the 1970 Rock Opera of the same name.
As the Curtain rises, small shafts of light grow to reveal the dynamic and utilitarian set of three storied Romanesque columned arches, with gobo lit compartments lining the first and second stories, from end to end. The multi-talented designer Tom Scutt, who also did the Hair and Costumes, created a powerful Rock Opera Set just made for the screaming guitars of Michael Frederick and Nick Dickerson, and the superb Music Direction by keyboardist Shawn Gough whose lead in this rock orchestra reminded us of lo so many years ago when all of this cried out from the belly of the Vietnam War to give us faith…in something. Scutt placed a massive cross to the right, a bit skewed, creating not only tension, but acting as another stage and becoming its own character in the play.
In this stark reveal, were arched doorways allowing levels and places to reveal and hide the Greek Chorus of players so important in exposing “true believers” and ancient enemies. We see the rapid pounding and primitive movement with a goodly number of powerful dancers. The choreography, by Drew McOnie at first seems out of control, but soon morphs into amazing stagecraft with the direction of Timothy Sheader, when Jesus discovers the debauchery at the Temple in Jerusalem. All of those dramatics are countered by the slow dynamic retaliation of Caiaphas and the Pharisees at the Sanhedrin which sends chilling premonition of things to come.
The important characters of this emotional work were played by Aaron LaVigne as Jesus, whose vapid insipid portrayal of Jesus Christ was a stark contrast to the unforgettable Ted Neely’s JC. The brilliant bass, Alvin Crawford was a powerful and compelling Caiaphas; the agitated James Delisco Beeks, who delivered a nearly one note portrayal of the treasonous Judas, was continuously hard punching and driving, but to what end? Beeks seem to exhaust his path of somewhere to go from his often-high pressed performance. It made one almost relieved when Judas finally did himself in. However, the treachery of Tommy Sherlock whose Pilate kept us guessing throughout and wondering whose side he was really on thrilled us with interest. Even the docile Jenna Rubaii (Mary), whose “light” somehow shown from within, made us wonder why she even cared about JC at all.
Memorable moments in the 90 minute, no intermission marathon, was the appearance of the fabulous and sassy “Soul Girls”, Keirsen Nicole Hodgens, Sandy Redd, and Jasmine Schmenk. The outrageous King Herod with his own song “Try it And see”…well…you have to see it to believe it. So luscious and scandalous it was in its wonton-ness, Paul Louis Lessard did it with such tongue in cheek he stopped the show. Also was the “thirty nine lashes” with primitive effects, was a stunning depiction of this barbarism prior to the crucifixion.
A major disappointment was LaVigne’s portrayal of the dying Jesus. So much so as to forget or make inaudible the final words commending his spirit to God as the lights focus around the iconic Jesus on the Cross to end this biblical moment.
This, however, is a very well done production, with a few exceptions. It should not be passed up, if only to revisit anew this important and historic work. There are moments of transcendence that must be experienced. Jesus Christ Superstar will have a very short run from Oct 30 – Nov. 3.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle, October 31, 2019.
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Featured image: Alvin Crawford, Tyce Green and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy.