Theatre Review: Jesus Christ Superstar: an ancient story for modern times - Article, Office of College Advancement

Tuesday, November 12, 2013—Reprinted from Tri-City Voice.

By Jessica Noel Flohr.

Jesus is speaking.The year is 2033 and Jerusalem is facing a desperate water shortage. Nuclear war and global warming have left the land desolate. The Republic of Mercantile Executives (ROME), who holds the controlling interest in the nation's wealth, is cracking down on rebellious uprisings. The rebels, suffering at the hands of the .01 percent, are losing heart. Who will relieve the angry crowd's burdens and lead them into a new kingdom?

Written in 1970 by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera retelling of the final weeks of the life of Jesus, inspired by the biblical story. After an initial concept album recording, the musical debuted on Broadway in 1971. The film version, starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, followed soon after in 1973. For over 40 years, the gospel-filled earworms have been bringing the last days of Jesus to life.

Director Michael Navarra has reimagined Jesus Christ Superstar for the 21st century. Currently playing at the Gary Soren Smith Center at Ohlone College, Navarra's production of the '70s rock opera is set in a post-apocalyptic future. Modern issues have been woven throughout as accents to the central theme. Steampunk-esque costumes support the blend of past and future, as well as a heavily industrialized set spread across every angle of the intimate NUMMI Studio Theatre. Use of multimedia and a live drummer and electric guitarist round out the gritty feel of the theme.

A man's back has been whipped.

The story opens with a young woman, blind and thirsty, stumbling across the stage, begging for water. Big men with sticks, agents from ROME, enter the scene and a riot breaks out. From the midst of the audience, the Superstar rises. Jesus tenderly takes the woman's face in his hands and restores her sight. Judas sings from a platform above the audience of his insistence that Jesus is just a man.

There are several struggles interwoven within the story. The primary struggle is that of Jesus and Judas. Judas, the woeful figure from the Christian bible, does not care for Jesus' rising popularity among the crowds. He wants real, practical, earthly change to create a better life for his people. Judas continually butts heads with Mary, who dotes on Jesus, calming and soothing him with expensive oils and heavenly notes. The Superstar has his own struggles as well. Jesus battles within himself over his own identity and significance. He leads, loves, guides, and heals, but also doubts and initially attempts to resist his fate.

This play has been fraught with controversy and criticism since its inception. Religious groups from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish circles have criticized the way the biblical themes are presented. Jewish groups feel that the portrayal of the crucifixion perpetuates negative feelings towards Jews by attributing the responsibility for the death of Christ to them. Protestants and Catholics alike object to Jesus' being a little too human for their comfort. In reading the gospel accounts themselves, believers can see that Jesus' message has never been well received, regardless of external packaging.

Jesus protects a group of men.

The humanity of Christ is the greatest feature of this presentation. Actor Cliff McCormick does a superb job of manifesting the very human Superstar. He is fully committed to the role. The audience acutely feels the tenderness he has for his followers. McCormick's Jesus experiences the fullness of humanity without denying the universality of the gospel message. Adam Fresquez, in the role of Judas, is an excellent antagonist for McCormick. The two frequently battle it out on stage; the tension is very real. Mary, played by Stacey Lynn Bell, beautifully intervenes with soothing tenderness in her voice.

This adaptation is raw and intense. Due to the modern presentation, some of the more violent scenes may not be appropriate for young audiences. In spite of perceived controversy, it is a refreshing spin on this ancient story. If your faith needs a reboot, or you love great music—check out this fantastic adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing throughout November at the Gary Soren Smith Center at Ohlone College.

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