Live Theater Reviews
Theatre Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at The Fabulous Fox
Jesus Christ Superstar – with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice is celebrating 50 years since its initial performances. The current North America tour celebrating this monumental milestone proves why this iconic show highlighting the last days of Jesus’ life has sustained its prominence as a popular musical with theater audiences.
Paying homage to prior iterations of the musical, the current tour embraces its rock concert/concept album beginnings and merges it with feelings of the 1973 film. The production makes a substantial change from previous productions in that it eliminates the standard musical intermission and makes significant use of microphones and other musical instruments on stage. These changes evoke the rock concert concept that Andrew Lloyd Webber himself desired upon its creation. It’s a welcome change and does not distract but enhances the talent on stage. The focus is on the vocalists and the dancers showcasing each song and the brisk pace of the show highlights their energy.
The musical is anchored in the remarkable talent of its cast. From principal roles to the ensemble, the cast shines vocally. Every song is dynamic, effortless, and full of emotion.
Jack Hopewell stars as Jesus with exhilarating vocal skill. His talent especially delights during the fateful Gethsemane song where he shows not only technical prowess with his vocals, but his depth in emotionally conveying the turmoil Jesus felt knowing what was to come in the following days.
Playing against the title role is Elvie Ellis who as Judas artistically brings the audience along with his inner conflict and betrayal. Ellis’ voice is powerful, controlled, and soaring throughout the musical – especially showstopping during the famous title song.
Faith Jones is lovely as Mary, bringing smooth vocals in contrast to the manic energy of the music surrounding Jesus, the apostles, and the Pharisees/Priests as seen by her graceful inflection in the renowned “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” ballad.
Grant Hodges (Caiaphas) and Kodiak Thompson (Annas) are engaging in their roles inducing Judas’ betrayal. Hodges, especially, stuns with his low bass notes, bringing a deliciously threatening tone to the role.
Colin Robertson (Peter) and Brett Hennessey Jones (Simon) are artful in their roles as followers of Jesus. Hennessey Jones glows specifically during “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem.” Robertson brings pure musical tones to his role, especially when collaborating with Jones on “Could We Start Again, Please” – a song written for the musical and not originally included on the concept album.
Nicholas Hambruch (Pilate) and Erich W. Schleck (Herod) round out the principal roles, with Schleck gleefully playing an ode to the glam metal groups of the 60s and 70s.
Director Timothy Scheader expertly uses color and light to tell the story as much as the musical notes and lyrics do. The vocal and dance talents of the ensemble stand out against the muted, yet towering set design and neutral-colored costumes. When appropriate, the lighting is theatrical and exudes the rock concert approach. At times the choreography is a little distracting but is striking in most songs such as during “The Temple” or “Trial Before Pilate”.
For first-time viewers or those who have seen Jesus Christ Superstar many times, this production is an enjoyable evening. The talented cast is heavenly, producing a strong rock opera wrapped up in musical theater overtones. Rice’s intelligent and penetrating lyrics combined with Webber’s dominating and memorable score stand up more than 50 years after its initial debut.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Fabulous Fox Theater through May 21, 2023. For more information, visit FabulousFox.com.
Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman