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"Jason Raize, on the other hand, manages to create a complex Pontius Pilate."
--Newsday review of Jesus Christ Superstar

 



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Newsday (Melville, NY)
'Superstar's' Touch of the Blues /
Cast Outshines Production in Road Revival

by Steve Parks, Staff Writer
December 7, 1995



Albany Times Union review of Jesus Christ Superstar >>

If you can picture Jesus singing the blues, then Ted Neeley just might be the "Superstar" for you.

He's been doing this gig off and on since the movie version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" premiered in 1973, two years after the rock opera by then-wunderkinds Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice opened on Broadway.

While the current national tour is beginning to show its road weariness - three understudies performed opening night at Tilles Center - Neeley's Christ retains an edge with his soaringly raspy voice reminiscent of David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears, the '70s rock-and-blues band. Despite this production's uneven cast and cheesy trimmings, "Jesus Christ Superstar" remains as one of the more satisfying creations of either Webber or Rice, the musical superstars who thereafter went their separate mega-hit ways.

In this heavily miked rock concert of a show, Neeley's plaintive wailings work best in anger - as in "The Temple," where Jesus muscles up on the money-changers, and the transcendent "Gethsemane," where he bemoans his fate to God. But aside from his beatific smile, Neeley's Jesus is mostly a pain. There's little warmth to his gentle side. Only in scenes with Mary Magdalene, heart-breakingly sung by Christine Rea in "I Don't Know How to Love Him," does Neeley allow Jesus to let down his guard.

Of course, with friends like Judas Iscariot, you'd be uptight, too. Fernand Roderick, who played the role opening night in Gary Rowland's place, presents a particularly grating Judas. Alternately impatient and inconsolable, Roderick's Judas is consistently heavy-handed, undermining the self-inflicted tragedy of his betrayal.

Jason Raize, on the other hand, manages to create a complex Pontius Pilate, though no amount of makeup can disguise his excessive youth for the role. Raize is 19. More villainous than any of these is understudy David Bannick, who growls ferociously as Caiaphas, the temple elder with no patience for Jesus' blasphemy. P.J. Terranova strikes a cliched but still amusing King-Herod-as-Elvis pose.

Whatever its shortcomings, the cast - helped by a crisp rock accompaniment coaxed by music director Jo Lynn Burks - far outshines what is otherwise a rather chintzy production. Even the chorus for the title number is short on backup singers. Scenery, where it exists, stands in tacky contrast to the void on stage - from the inflatable giant Jesus meant to convey a carnival atmosphere in the temple to the golden glow of the lighted cross at Calvary, ringed with concertina wire. Costumes look like hand-me-downs from some hippie/gypsy show, perhaps the soulmate "Godspell." In lieu of special effects and inspiration, there's a misty haze overhead and blinding lights directed straight at the audience.

But you still get to hear Jesus singing the blues.

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