Jesus Christ Superstar still thrills after fifty years

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Tim Rice and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber had a hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar, possibly before many of you were born. You can now see the 50th Anniversary Tour now at the Miller Theater until May 7. 
There have been many productions, but most have fallen short in spectacle, excitement, and, sometimes, talent over the decades. Not this time. This fantastic production is an award-winning musical first created by The Regent’s Park Theatre London. It is now touring, and it must be said it will knock your socks off.
Choreographer Drew McOnie begins with a burst of energy from the large dance contingent onstage. The energy builds and builds through the first few numbers until you fear for all the dancers who might collapse in exhaustion. Fear not! For the manic energy ceases for the lyrical “Everything’s Alright,” sung rapturously by Faith Jones as Mary. Elvie Ellis is the most manic character as he plays the rather bipolar Judas. Right from the start, he is manic, and his disaffection only builds until he is operating in complete hysteria. His histrionics made the crowd go wild. When he is offered his blood money, the silver covers his hands as if painted, marking him until his suicide with his crime. 
Grant Hodges is a thrilling Caiaphas. His booming, stentorian voice commands attention instantly. Of course, his broad, bare chest helps, too. Nicholas Hambruch is a large bear of a Pilate, whose deep voice also thrills as he exhibits a gamut of emotions. At the far end of the Kinsey scale from the aforementioned roles, Erich W. Schleck is a Herod of a different species altogether. Part drag queen, sadist, and maniac, he cuts a disturbing figure which truly stands out. Jack Hopewell is amazing as Jesus Christ. He goes from sweet and innocent to whipped, blood-soaked victim, to painfully shoved crown of thorns upon his head, to unbearably and viscerally crucified Savior, expiating the sin of Eve. 
The live band is off to one side, onstage throughout the ninety-minute production. The fierce Casimir Olko on bass, Isaac Hegelstad on guitar, and Jimmie Bonaparte-Coggins on drums help create a true rock sound reminiscent of those teen years you may have spent at the New York Academy of Music in the 1970s. Keep in mind that this production was outdoors in a park, so it grabs you from the get-go and doesn’t let you go.
Jesus Christ Superstar, the 50th Anniversary Tour, is at Philadelphia’s Miller Theater, until May 7, as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Season. For tickets, phone 215-893-1999, or .

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