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by Spencer Howard

The last time I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar was the 2000 revival and I was in high school. I remember how enthralled I was at the production and how big of an influence it was on my young theater career. So I was a healthy combination of nervous and excited to see the latest revival of Superstar, playing at the Neil Simon Theater, 12 years later. Knowing Josh Young (Judas), I was sad to hear that he was still out of the show (get better soon!). But I had heard that Jeremy Kushnier (Rent, Aida, Footloose) had stepped into the role and was doing a great job.

I thought Jeremy did a very good job in the very difficult role of Judas. He had a vulnerability that made you truly feel for him throughout the whole piece. His voice had more of a “raspiness” to it than I’m used to hearing in his singing, which I loved for the character and hoped was a choice (and not just fatigue from singing that insane score!).

I was impressed with Des McAnuff’s direction of Superstar. I felt that he tried to portray these characters as real human beings, and not over-the-top characters in a rock opera. While this drew attention to the great acting in the piece…it also drew my (and the audience’s) attention to the music and lyrics of the show (penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice). There were actually a few times that the audience laughed because of some overly-simple lyrics. While I didn’t feel it appropriate to laugh at the piece, I could, for the first time, hear some gaps in the show’s armor.

I was most notably impressed with Paul Nolan’s (Jesus) Zeppelin-like rock sound and the surprisingly stunning vocal range of Lee Seigel (Simon Zealotes). While Seigel only had one big feature and Nolan had many…I could have listened to the two of them for another two hours.

My only gripes about the show were the opening number, and the digital scroll displaying the days of the week. The opening number had some “fight choreography” with metal spears that could have started the show off on a badass note (especially considering how talented the cast seemed to be at the breakdance/capoeira style). But it ended up looking like a bad kung-fu movie. As far as the digital scroll goes, I didn’t really care what day of the week it was. Flashing the date just ended up taking my attention out of the show. Had it been utilized to distract me from a set change that would have been one thing, but it would happen after the set changes already occurred!

All in all, I was very entertained by this production. The voices alone are worth the price of admission.

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