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Monday, May 14, 2012

Clarksville Little Theatre Production of Superstar “Not to Be Missed”

Left to right:  Brian West, Brian Morris and Greg Wood
in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Bunny Miller.
Jesus Christ Superstar

Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Choreography by Rebecca Chaney
Music Director Doug Jones
Directed by Janet Morris

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

The Clarksville Little Theater certainly has ups and downs when it comes to the quality of their productions. But when they are on – they are on. And that is certainly the case with their latest production, a revival of the classic Rice/Weber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

It was originally conceived as a two-record concept album released in 1970 before moving to the Broadway stage in 1971 and has been revived countless times all over the world. Once considered highly controversial (the original album was banned from BBC radio for being sacrilegious), it’s now beloved: a passion play set to rock music that’s just infectious. Taking a lot of liberties with the Sacred Texts, the opera dramatizes the final week in the life of Christ and casts Judas Iscariot, one of the Bible’s most hated villains, in a sympathetic role.

This interpretation of the story presents Jesus as a tortured soul, struggling to reconcile his Divinity with his humanity as he leads his apostles in the way of the Lord. His best friend and confidante Judas is increasingly more disturbed by the road his Master is taking, to the point that he worries about Jesus’ true motives. Both men seem to have a less than pure interest in the lovely former prostitute Mary Magdalene, who struggles with her own feelings for the Son of God.

Everything about CLT’s current production is stellar, starting with the casting. As Jesus, Brian Morris gives the performance of his career. His singing is flawless and he certainly looks the part, but he has found the character’s emotional center and at times he is heartbreaking to watch. Similarly, Jason Potts’ Judas (arguably the show’s true leading role) is an emotional wreck and Potts lets raw emotion trump the character’s high notes with an amazing skill.

Carrie Cooke’s Mary Magdalene is just lovely both in looks and voice. We can feel her struggle against her baser instincts, especially on the show’s two best numbers: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Can We Start Again Please.”

The show’s more villainous roles are also given a nice touch here, from the Matrix- and Hellraiser-inspired interpretations of the High Priests (Mason Stewart, Dan Canon and Jeff Mangum) and the completely cartoonish King Herod (Greg Wood, in the show’s most rousing song-and-dance performance). Bo Cecil also gives a nicely sympathetic turn as a tortured Pontius Pilate, especially with the touching “Pilate’s Dream” number.

Janet Morris continues to top herself with each new show she directs, at CLT and elsewhere, and this is no exception. She has staged some amazing set pieces, and has directed a huge ensemble, expertly allowing every single cast member their own moments to shine.

Finally, the set design (by director Morris and stage manager Kevin Butler) is simple yet effective, evoking traditional Passion Plays with a nicely anachronistic modern twist, complemented by multiple-period costume designs (by Morris, Jayme Thomas, Katie Hay, Bryce Blair, Rebecca Chaney and Jennifer Starr Tennant). All of this is given life by the moody and beautiful lighting designs of Nick Dent.

The real magic of Jesus Christ Superstar may well be the way it can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what your religious beliefs. (In fact, I happen to know that among the cast and crew there is an amazing diversity of faiths, even a few agnostics and atheists.) But no matter what your personal belief system may be, I challenge you to try to keep a dry eye at the show’s emotional and ominous conclusion, which doesn’t even provide a curtain call to break the levity.

By far one of the best pieces of Community Theater I have seen in quite some time. Not to be missed!

Jesus Christ Superstar

Featuring Polina Abramov, John Aurelius, Bryce Blair, Dan Canon, Bo Cecil, Carrie Cooke, Ellie Delap, Eddie Dohn, Elisa Freeman, Katie Hay, Nicholas Johnson, Karissa Kathryn, Jeff Mangum, Brian Martin, Martha McLain, Mike Miller, Drew Moore, Brian Morris, Mary Rose Pinotti, Heidi Platt, Jason Potts, Andrea Rose, Mason Stewart, Jennifer Starr Tennant, Laura Van Fossen, Brian West and Greg Wood.

May 11-20, 2012

Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Ave. Clarksville, IN 47129
812-283-6522

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