Jesus Christ Superstar – theatre review

Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach presents the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Tim Rice rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on stage at 105 6th Street North, until October 11, 2014. For reservations, call at 904 249-0289, or visit SuperstarThe musical was first recorded in 1970 as a record album, and sold over 2 million copies. The musical opened on Broadway in 1971, and has been performed throughout the world since then. It was revived on Broadway in 2012.

A number of years have passed since it has been staged in the North Florida area. We recall seeing Justin Murphy perform in the title role three times, In 1995, at Christ Methodist Church, in 1999 at the Florida Theatre, and in 2008 at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre.

If you have ever seen this show, you are in for a treat with Players’ current production, conceived and directed/choreographed by Ron Shreve and Jocelyn Geronimo. The great songs and music are the same, but are presented with remarkable staging.

The set is an open one, with a platform against the wall, and two sets of movable steps attached. A fog machine under the platform is used frequently for special effects. The walls are printed with motifs that reference clock mechanisms, an illusion to the acceleration of the events leading to the death of Jesus, and perhaps also a reference to the relevance of the timeless story to modern audiences. Jim Wiggin‘s lighting design is a light show extraordinaire, filled with changing colors angled from different directions including the sides of the stage.

The unique costumes by Courtney English are another visual surprise. While Jesus appears in loose white garments, the other cast members appear in modern or near modern clothing, inspired by steampunk. The costumes are mostly in black or neutral colors, and include boots, suits with vests and jackets, top hats, and for the women, fitted bodices with lace accents.

Now that we have set the stage for the visuals, we turn our attention to what you will hear. The entire show is presented in song, sung by this cast of nineteen with confidence, passion, and impressive vocal control and poignancy.

The story is set during the seven last days of Christ, prior to the Crucifixion. Alex Rodriquez displays a remarkable vocal range filled with compassion in the title role of Jesus, who is often at odds with his troublesome Apostles. His performance is authentic and heartfelt, with deep veins of humanity.

David Lee Redding makes his local theatre debut in the challenging and demanding role of Judas, and plays this high-wattage role boldly, with the passion it deserves, and with amazing vocal expression.

Sadie La Manna, as Mary Magdalene, is a loving follower of Jesus, who tries to shield him from the demands of his followers, consoling him with “Everything’s All Right.” Her rendition of the show’s most famous song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” conveys the depths of both earthly and spiritual passion.

Rob Banks, as the Governor of Judea, is impressive with his premonition of the blame he will receive as a result of the death of Jesus in “Pilate‘s Dream.” Peter Jackson, UNF vocal student, who was Javert in Theatre Jacksonville‘s recent “Les Misérables,” is the powerful high priest Caiaphas.

Not appearing until the second act, but making quite a splash when he does, is King Herod played by Daniel Austin. Dressed all in gold, he provides comic relief as the taunting, flamboyant ruler.

Others in featured roles are Hector Gonzalez Toro (Annas), Ryan Arroyo (Peter), Jeff Springman (Simon). The amazing ensemble members, with all almost constantly on stage were: Lauren Albert, Ashley Augustyniak, Alix Bond, Amanda Faye, Jessica Hayden, Leslie Richart, Ashley Yarham, Noah Bennett, David Scott, and Eric Yarham.

The marvelous band hidden back stage was led by Musical Director Greg Hersey, with Ryan Slatko (Keyboard), Misha Frayman (Guitar), Cody Wheaton (Bass) and Jonathan Ward (Trumpet/Jonathan WardGuitar). The creative team also included Kat O’Neal McLeod, as Stage Manager and Light Board Operator, and Ron Shreve as Scenic Designer.

When Theatre brings us revivals and nostalgia, we can appreciate the works in their original form, but it can be exciting when we experience new visions, freshness, and originality. Mr. Shreve and Players certainly has delivered this with their version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” which combines high directorial concepts and Inventiveness with consistently strong performances by a knockout cast.


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.