Jesus is indeed the
superstar of the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock
opera bearing his name, but
you might never know it from the touring
"Jesus Christ Superstar" at
the Carpenter Center through Sunday.
In this truck-and-bus show launched in
1992 to mark the 20th
anniversary of the filmed "Superstar,"
Texas rocker Ted Neeley
re-creates his title performance from the
movie. But almost all the
other principal performers sing and act
circles around him.
Maybe Neeley, the tour's prime drawing
card, has been on the bus too
long. In the first act, he conveys Jesus
with a limited stock of tired
beatific mannerisms, and his singing voice
is a sometime thing.
With the second act's "Gethsemane," he
manages some genuine feeling,
but never the conviction and vocal finesse
that the actors playing
Judas, Pontius Pilate and Mary Magdalene
bring to their roles.
That doesn't mean Neeley doesn't get a
rousing standing ovation,
though. No matter how he's played, Jesus
always gets audience huzzahs
Otherwise, this "Superstar" is a huge
improvement over the "Superstar"
that played the Carpenter Center five
Except for Neeley's lackluster
performance, the tendency of cordless
headsets to obscure some performers'
mouths and a title song that
doesn't get the soaring oomph it needs
because the pit orchestra is too
small, this "Superstar" is quite lively
Director-choreographer Tony Christopher
puts the emphasis on dance,
which is often inventive, as well as
singing. He eschews elaborate
scenery in favor of spectacular lighting
-- the sides and top of the
stage bristle with hundreds of
computerized lights -- to reinforce the
The stage glows blood-red at some points,
glacial-blue at others.
Different areas often are lighted in
strikingly different ways to drive
dramatic points home. When the light
clears, the contrasting colors in
the hippyish costumes in this
tableau-prone show sometimes suggest
illustrations on Sunday school posters.
Unlike the 1990 "Superstar," in which
Bertilla Baker thought she was
Ella Fitzgerald and destroyed the clean,
simple lines of "I Don't Know
How to Love Him" through embellishment,
the show's most haunting ballad
gets its full due this time out. Christine
Rea as Mary Magddelene turns
her confused feelings about Jesus into a
haunting spell-binder. (The
role is played by Lisa Marie at matinees.)
Gary Rowland brings a powerful baritone,
seductive charm and real
anguish to Judas. Jason Raize is equally
assured as Pilate. Pint-sized
P.J. Terranova gets a lot of laugh mileage
out of his Elvis Presleyish
rendering of King Herod. And Christopher
P. Carey's bassoonlike tones
are made to order for the sinister
This show's one big innovation lies in the
ending. To meet old
complaints that Jesus is crucified but not
resurrected, the musical
epilogue has been expanded to break the
bounds of the cross and ascend
literally out of sight while his cross
takes on a golden glow.
No stage rendering of "Superstar" is
likely to compete with the
majestic images the original "Superstar"
album conjured in the mind. As
stage versions go, however, this one has a
lot to recommend it.