Thursday, March 23, 2017

reviews - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR - Arizona Broadway Theatre

Cassandra Klaphake and Brett Travis (center) and Cast
Photo by Scott Samplin / Arizona Broadway Theatre
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 16th.

"....Jesus Christ Superstar has gone through countless interpretations in its setting...The new ambitious and undeniably audacious Broadway Theatre...has a somewhat dystopian setting. Set designer Aaron Sheckler’s nicely detailed design ...appears like a post-apocalyptic version of Catfish Row...Michaela Lynne Stein’s costume designs coupled with Amanda Gran’s wig and make-up complete the overall feel of an abandoned, somewhat anarchic society looking for leadership...Even the glittery angels singing backup to the show’s most famous title number sport celestial looking mohawks. It may work for some audience members who thrive on re-imaged designs, but for others who like their Superstar a little more traditional looking, it may not.
...If you already know the piece and have a fixed idea on how it should appear, then new interpretations won’t always live up to what you hope to see....With this production, however, it’s not the setting that’s the issue. The opening number, Heaven On Their Minds, was always meant as the inner thoughts and concerns of Judas ...Here, as interpreted by director Kiel Klaphake, the song is sung directly for Jesus to hear, who responds to Judas with anger and lots of dismissive arm waves. It feels odd. ....So, too, is the new addition of having Judas shoot heroin.....Musically, Kevin Finn’s direction sticks close to the original rock arrangements....the band often pulsates with that same excitement felt on early album plays, but the singing is another matter. ...During some of the quieter passages, the cast sound perfectly fine and the clarity affecting...but once those emotionally expressive rock and roll vocal histrionics kick into full throttle and cast members let loose, the abrasive often turns into screech. Kurtis W. Overby’s new choreography is lively and adds plenty of visual excitement to the disciples and various ensemble followers, often depicted in previous theatrical productions as people simply standing around while doing little more than shrugging at each other and throwing in backup vocals. Here, Overby’s high-energy moves gives the cast plenty to do, which ultimately becomes the most engaging aspect of the show. Though it has to be said, having the black-clothed lepers leaping all around the stage with the vigor of the physically fit while they’re meant to be crawling pathetically out of the woodwork, desperately looking for healing, really is something of an overreach." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar has moved the setting from biblical times to what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world quite well for the nomadic Jesus and his apostles to be portrayed as a ragtag group of rebels facing off against the wealthier and more powerful Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and King Herod...While ABT has a talented cast for this production, including many favorites from their past shows, and sumptuous creative elements, the fact that the cast and the band don't completely match the style of rock music the show requires, along with a few directorial missteps, finds this production falling short.....The musical swiftly covers many well-known events in Christ's life, from Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to Mary Magdalene's and the apostles' devotion to him, the last supper, Jesus' betrayal by Judas, his trial by Pontius Pilate, and ultimately his crucifixion.....The ABT cast along with director Kiel Klaphake and choreographer Kurtis W. Overby are all gifted professionals and this show clearly takes an emotional toll on all involved. But Jesus Christ Superstar isn't a traditional musical theatre piece. It requires the cast to be able to move seamlessly throughout the rock score, delivering high-pitched riffs and screaming wails that any fan of the show is well familiar with. ...While Brett Travis and Shawn W. Smith are fine as Jesus and Judas, respectively, and both deliver well nuanced portrayals with pure and beautiful singing voices, they don't have rough, rock-hued singing voices that would more completely pull off the material. They start out fine but as the show goes on they become less effective. ....Cassandra Klaphake injects Mary with a jolt of warmth and passion. Her legit voice invokes a soothing, loving quality in her solo numbers. I just wish her gutsy, deep tones had more of a rock edge to them and more earthy and gritty sounds...The majority of the creative elements are excellent. Kurtis W. Overby's choreography is vibrant, varied and lively, though his decision to have the lepers deliver a forceful, buoyant number seems slightly odd, especially since they are singing the lyrics "see me stand, I can hardly walk" while they are dancing up a storm.....Michaela Lynne Stein's costumes are excellent, with a blend of earth tones and simple fabrics for Jesus and the apostles compared to more elaborate textiles that pop with bright colors for the powerful people Jesus comes in contact with. ....Matt Drui's sound design is clear but slightly off, giving more volume to the orchestra which overpowers the cast at numerous times, and the band doesn't quite deliver the refined sound the score requires, with the funky guitar licks, blaring horns, and hard driving drums not always in sync....While ABT's production has many winning elements, it's lacking an ability to let the power of Lloyd Webber's driving rock score and Rice's lyrics be effectively delivered by a cast and band to ensure that the many emotional moments in the show are deeply moving." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Jesus Christ Superstar...hasn’t aged Arizona Broadway Theatre, where Jesus and his disciples look like half-hearted hippies...The clash between the kitschy look and sound and the grand religio-historic themes has always made this a love-it-or-hate-it show....But director Kiel Klaphake’s unimaginative staging doesn’t show off “Superstar” to best effect. Lead actors Brett Travis (Jesus) and Shawn W. Smith (Judas) sound great — until they shift into screeching rock-star falsetto. And the sometimes muddy sound...makes it hard to make out the lyrics...." - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Martyr? Minister? Zealot? Messiah? For centuries, the riddle of Jesus has been dissected by scores of scholars and artists with one of the more imaginative takes being Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's supersonic rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. ....After forty-six years and all the changes and traumas our culture has endured, SUPERSTAR still resonates....If ABT doesn't get all the way there in maximizing these opportunities (particularly in the climactic and gut-wrenching Crucifixion scene), it does manage nevertheless to deliver on razzle and dazzle, sandwiching its characters between Michaela Lynne Stein's wild and exotic wardrobe designs ....and the robust musicianship of Kevin Finn's orchestra (which, at times, despite its richness, had an annoying tendency to drown out the singers).....there's passion enough in ABT's version of Webber and Rice's Passion musical, but a dash and half more passion would make it a blockbuster. " Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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