Theater review: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Don't worry, this moment between Mary (Chilina Kennedy), Judas (Josh Young) and Jesus (Paul Nolan) is about as controversial as it gets.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” opens on Broadway tonight in its third revival since 1971. With no big names on the billing, the show aims to bank on its popularity alone. Thus, it doesn’t go out of its way to do more than deliver a predictable package. Instead of a classic gone contemporary, it feels like theatergoing via time machine. But maybe that’s better than aspiring higher and succeeding less?

On the other hand, it’s a little like watching your parents try to be cool. For example, the costumes want for cleverness: Utilitarian rags, peasant sandals and robes contrast with pleather, grommets and sequins. Most of the technological enhancements used would have been at hand for the original production. The particular rock-opera style that’s stamped with the influences of its decade now seems outmoded, though that can’t be helped. The sporadic choreography looks good, but there’s too little; the overture underscores an acrobatic fight scene, so what follows feels like a decline. Many of these choices might seem blameless, only bland. But what this musical lacks most is a new framework – an orchestrated opinion. It’s almost as if director Des McAnuff simply moved forward by backing away from anything that might be construed as controversial.

Which isn’t to say the experience isn’t enjoyable; it certainly is. The best element, other than the fact that the show is tidy at less than two hours in length, is that the singing is phenomenal. Judas (Jeremy Kushnier) easily steals the show with feverish blue eyes and protective angst. (Kushnier is an understudy; the role is typically played by Josh Young.) Jesus (Paul Nolan) is nearly an entitled prince, but ebbs into being placid. Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy) somehow makes it boring to be a whore, which is admittedly an acting feat – but why? Pontius Pilate (Tom Hewitt) adds shades of gray, and King Herod (Bruce Dow) doles the correct dose of comedy. All told, this production is best suited for those who already know and love the score. For them, this elaborately staged concert version of “Superstar” hits all the right marks.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
Neil Simon Theatre
250 W. 52nd Street
$79-$137
www.superstaronbroadway.com


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