Brian Bowles in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Ronnie Breedlove.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed and designed by Ronnie Breedlove
Conducted by Jon Ledgerwood
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2016 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Depending on whom you ask, Jesus Christ Superstar can spark fascination, excitement, outrage – even a groan or two. It’s quite clear that since its original concept album release in 1970, this rock and roll show of biblical proportions has taken on a life similar to that of an old rock band touring the U.S. yet again. This multimedia spectacle, performed with the RiverPops orchestra at the Riverstage in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is perfect for any Superstar fan, young or old.
What has always struck me about this play is the loose structure within the libretto and how the events unfolding can be open to interpretation. You want a blonde haired Jesus in blue jeans? No problem. The entire cast appearing in robes and caftans? You got it. This production utilizes a concert motif. Simple risers and scaffolding dress the stage with a vivid and, depending on where you sit, almost blinding LED lighting scheme and a giant screen behind the onstage RiverPops orchestra. These technical aspects resembled arena rock shows during numbers like “Simon Zealots” while other numbers, like “Gethsemane,” felt heavy handed within the elaborate concept. This is the first production of this show that I’ve seen where the show’s Overture did not include some thinly veiled plot exposition through dance and it worked. The RiverPops sounded fantastic throughout the show and during this number in particular. The cinematic scrolling of names on the upstage screen was very helpful due to the shortage of programs within the amphitheater as well.
Throughout the show, we see images of moonlit skies and Grecian pillars to further tie us into the particular scenes, but the cinematic captions of particular times and dates as stated in the Biblical story felt arbitrary. As the action unfolds with the betrayal and crucifixion, it’s easy to pick up on themes of time and place regardless of how familiar you are with the story, making the subtitles superfluous. I have to extend kudos, however, to the director, Ronnie Breedlove’s concept, as he has created a world where religious figures credibly transcend into rock star status. And wasn’t that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s intention all along?
What good is a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar without amazing leads? Corwyn Hodge steals the show as Judas. His sweat soaked performance is moving, calculating, and boils with tension as he belts out “Heaven on Their Minds,” and “Superstar.” Brian Bowles displays inner conflict and heightened emotions with every high note he attempts to hit. His rendition of “Gethsemane” was equal parts prayer and bargain and all together impressive. Katelyn Webb brings a lovely vocal as Mary Magdalene with “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and joins Apostles played by Patrick Vaughn, James Butterfield, Daniel Smith, and Scott Goodman for a beautiful, harmonious version of “Could We Start Again Please?,” the harmonies of which were punctuated by the gentle rocking of the river. The complete group of Apostles (Goodman, Vaughn, Smith, Butterfield, Ken Robinson Chris Wagner, Andrew Bittenberder, Frank Goodloe, Justin Sinkler, Corey Regrut and Will Simpson) shine as a group as well: a nomadic group of hippies showing as much devotion to Bowles’ Jesus as Deadheads do to Jerry Garcia, with “What’s the Buzz” and, more notably, the Last Supper.
Dan Bullington displays a brutish, mob boss quality as Pontius Pilate, even going so far as smoking a stogie on stage. Kevin Swansey is flamboyant fun as Herod as he prances around in his purple sequins and feathers. As Caiaphas and Annas, Paul Kerr and Herschel Zahnd blend well vocally and effectively play on the uneasy paranoia in “This Jesus Must Die.”
So whether you grew up listening to the album or have only heard of this biblical musical without ever seeing it, this production brings the goods. Jesus Christ Superstar with the RiverPops rocks loud and hard.
Jesus Christ Superstar
July 21-24, 2016
100 Riverside Drive
Jeffersonville, Indiana 47130
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!