It is 1971 and we have a new Broadway musical in which Mary Magdalene lusts for Jesus, an African-American actor plays a sympathetic Judas Iscariot, there is no resurrection scene, and the score is full-on rock-and-roll. Jesus Christ Superstar earned more than its fair share of protesters from the Religious Right upon its opening. But by 1999 the Vatican had officially endorsed the show, ending three decades of finger-wagging at its authors. Was the show ahead of its time? Or were we so far behind?
The North Carolina Theatre‘s production of this sung-through rock opera runs now through Sunday evening — during Holy Week — in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice, it chronicles the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus Christ Superstar began its life as a 1970 British concept album, before producer-director Tom O’Horgan developed the Tony®-nominated 1971 Broadway production. The score would greatly influence Webber & Rice’s subsequent project, 1976’s Evita.
NCT guest director Eric Woodall, a North Carolina native who has served as resident director of the Broadway, Vegas, and touring productions of Mamma Mia!, recently directed NCT productions of mega-musicals Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins. His latest endeavor runs at rock-concert pace, packing tons of material into under two hours. This production’s attention to pacing, and the emotional impact of its many power ballads, make it an obvious crowd-pleaser. Moreover, this homegrown Triangle production is just as good as any of the Broadway mega-tours sliding through the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Much of the impact is thanks to choreographer Marc Kimelman, who expertly blends ballet, African, hip-hop, and modern dance to enhance a piece not typically known as a “dance show.” The ensemble is comprised of highly skilled dancers and powerhouse vocalists. Musical director Edward G. Robinson has congealed tight, crisp harmonies from his cast and his orchestra, who fill the auditorium with a lush arrangement of the iconic score.
Technical director Bill Yates, Jr. has constructed a tall, spacious, Colosseum-inspired set, designed by Chris Bernier, with Robinson’s orchestra in full view. Ample performance space is given to the ensemble and set pieces are used economically to minimize transition time.
The colorful costumes of designer LeGrande Smith are incorporated uniquely into the storytelling framework and clearly delineate the economic classes of ancient Jerusalem while maintaining a modern sleekness, matched by the contemporary hair stylings of Brittnye Batchelor.
Sound designer Brian L. Hunt, with Eric Alexander Collins at his side, is, as always, at the top of his game. The live mix on this show keeps the vocalists highlighted without losing the integrity of the orchestra. But the real technical hero is Samuel Rushen, whose lighting is worthy of an arena rock concert.
Director Eric Woodall has brought on board a number of Broadway and Off-Broadway performers. Aleks Pevec is a passionate and understated Jesus, while Aaron C. Finley presents Judas with frenetic energy. Both actors are impeccable power-ballad tenors and handily reach Webber’s insanely assigned notes. Brennyn Lark has the vocal power to pull of Mary Magdalene’s many belts, though she often lags behind the band.
Larry Alan Coke is an imposing physical and vocal force as the scheming Caiaphas, performing one of the lowest vocal parts ever written for musical theater with only a few low notes out of his reach. Kevin Earley is a robust but troubled Pontius Pilate, and Rob Morrison is a weaselly and perfectly voiced Annas. Joshua Morgan steals Act Two with his too-brief stay as the campy Herod, and Carolina-raised Nick DeVito impresses with a trio of unique characters.
The heavenly ensemble of villagers and apostles garner more attention than any lead performer. Demanding dances are executed consummately by Hugh Cha, Valton Jackson, Stephen Hernandez, and Emily Thomas Wells, in particular, while Jodie Evans and Melvin Gray, Jr. have distinctly strong acting moments. But no ensemble member garners as much admiration as Raleigh native Carlita Victoria, whose evocative dancing is awe-inspiring.
The North Carolina Theatre has molded an electrifying, must-see presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar as its Easter gift to the Triangle. A skeptical audience may view the material as overworn after five decades of productions; but thanks to NCT, it has risen. It has risen indeed.
SECOND OPINION: April 12th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-North-Carolina-Theatres-JESUS-CHRIST-SUPERSTAR-20170412; April 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods : http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/jesus-christ-superstar/Event?oid=5070086; April 12th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article144224244.html; March 30th Wilmington, NC Spectrum News Coastal Carolina interview with Aleks Pevec and Brennyn Lark, conducted by Linnie Supall: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/coastal/in-depth-interview/2017/03/30/in-depth-jesus-christ-superstar.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 11th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/04/celebrate-holy-week-april-11-16-in-raleigh-with-ncts-production-of-jesus-christ-superstar/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at 7:30 p.m. April 14 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 15 and 16 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $23-$115, except $25 with college student ID.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/843994.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/jesus-christ-superstar, https://www.facebook.com/events/270966043259188/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/jesus-christ-superstar-7093.
2016-17 SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/show-season/201516-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Energy_Center_for_the_Performing_Arts#Raleigh_Memorial_Auditorium.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15th, performance.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1970 concept album):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christ_Superstar_%28album%29 (Wikipedia),
Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber (music): http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/andrew-lloyd-webber-12073 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0515908/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/AndrewLloydWebber (Facebook page), http://www.twitter.com/officialalw (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia).
Sir Tim Rice (lyrics): http://www.timrice.co.uk/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tim-rice-8890 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005358/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sir-Tim-Rice-Official/104931586217569 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/sirtimrice (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Rice (Wikipedia).
Jesus Christ Superstar (1971 Broadway and 1972 West End musical):http://www.jesuschristsuperstar.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/jesus-christ-superstar-4880 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.facebook.com/jesuschristsuperstar http://www.twitter.com/jcsthemusical https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christ_Superstar (Wikipedia), and http://www.youtube.com/user/jesuschristsuperstar (YouTube).
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070239/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/79745/Jesus-Christ-Superstar/ (Turner Classic Movies), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christ_Superstar_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
Eric Woodall (Benson, NC-born New York City director): http://www.ericwoodall.com/ (official website), http://www.tararubincasting.com/our-team.html (Tara Rubin Casting bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/eric-woodall-90124 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940106/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/eric.woodall.98 (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is a local theater actor, regular crew member, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. degree in Special Education from East Carolina University. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can also find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt, on Twitter as @dkbritt85, and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.