With Easter close at hand, the 50th Anniversary tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR comes to downtown Jacksonville. This piece is an early work of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber with a timeless, classic score, at times flying into the stratosphere, other times scraping the bottom of the scale. It’s a high-powered rock opera that takes the audience through the roller coaster of ups and downs in Jesus’ final days as seen through the eyes of Judas.
Never intended to be an accurate portrait of Christ’s passion, the story is lyricist Tim Rice’s idea of what Judas’s thoughts and motivations may have been, not a Biblical portrayal. Rice implies that without Judas as the narrative’s driving force, the “greatest story” wouldn’t have happened nor been so glorious. Unwittingly, treacherous Judas is responsible for all that has happened ever after.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is a re-staging of London’s Olivier Award-winning 2016 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production directed by Timothy Sheader and choreographed by Drew McOnie. It is strikingly visual. Costuming is a very grunge/punk look with hoodies and crop tops. During Christ’s anointing, “oil” is poured out of vessels like sand. When Jesus is whipped, each lashing is accented by glitter thrown on him until his bruised body has a glowing aura. The set is minimalist but effective. The choreography is simple and energetic – anything more would probably have detracted from the vocals.
Elvie Ellis (Judas) opens the show and is a powerhouse through to the end. In the role of Jesus is Jack Hopewell, whose vocal range is incredible, with his falsetto being particularly strong. Also, his passion and emotion are very powerful, especially at the end of the show. My prior experience with the role of Mary has been with lighter soprano voices. Faith Jones’ (Mary) rich tones are elegant.
In supporting roles, there were strong vocals from Evil high priest Caiaphas (Grant Hodges) with a luscious chasm-deep bass; Annas (Kodiak Thompson) with a high tenor rock voice; and Pilate (Nicholas Hambruch) and apostle Peter (Colin Robertson) who possess wonderful Broadway voices.
In the fray is a notable cameo role. Herod (Erich W. Schleck) is written to stop the show with its old-timey vaudeville tune with camp excess. The scene was pure gold – literally. Schleck is appropriately over-the-top in his Rupaul-esqe performance.
I do have criticisms. While the Soul Singers and ensemble had great voices, their diction was not together, making them frequently difficult to understand. Also, the stage was not utilized as fully as possible. The band was onstage (stage left), and the cast didn’t really use that side of the stage and didn’t interact with the band.
Part of the FSCJ Artist Series, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts March 21-26, 2023. Ticket prices vary based on show and seating. For tickets, go to fscjartistseries.org or call (904) 632-5000.
By Cessy Newmon