Based on the touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that moved into Minneapolis this week, Jesus’ followers were into: glitter, dropped-crotch pants, CrossFit and comfy athleisure-wear separates.
The look is very wine bar of today — with his shaved head and bun, Aaron LaVigne’s Jesus would be right at home in an Imagine Dragons tribute band — even if the events took place 2,000 years ago and even if the show itself feels more than a little dated.
The idea of portraying Jesus’ final days in the form of a pop concert is a good one. But musical theater — and, other than the ones in casinos, pop concerts — has moved beyond the sort of bombastic, all-one-volume-and-energy-level performance style that’s on view in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical (which, to be fair, was created as an album before it was moved to the stage).
Weirdly, it feels like the creators selected events from the life of Jesus Christ to match the style of music, rather than the other way around, or at least that’s the reason I can come up with for why the crucifixion is emphasized so much more than the resurrection. Also, why does poor Jesus get none of the good songs? Hasn’t he been through enough?
The highlights of this production were the quieter elements. As Mary Magdalene, Jenna Rubaii’s “Everything’s Alright” was a rare moment of brightness and her “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was soulful and lovely.
Rubaii acts “I Don’t Know How,” rather than trying to belt it like she’s in a hair band, so we get all of the confusion and tenderness that are part of the show’s best, and best-known, song.
Director Timothy Sheader’s staging of the Last Supper scene is clever and precise. And the cast performs Drew McOnie’s jagged, gestural dance moves with impressive energy. (Although, just as there was a time when all theatrical choreography seemed beholden to Bob Fosse, these days it’s all about Bill T. Jones.)
Sheader efficiently stages “Superstar” on a three-level set, with girders resembling interlocking crosses. For some reason, the top level is never used, though, and Sheader also doesn’t get enough layers from his actors, who tend to find one emotion and then sustain it for the show’s entire 90 minutes.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is supposed to be Judas’ take on events as he begins to doubt Jesus’ methods, but that doesn’t come through because its Judas, James Delisco Beeks, has his emotions turned up to 11 from the get-go. (It doesn’t help that Brandon Victor Dixon’s sex-god Judas in NBC’s “Superstar” remains a recent, vivid memory.)
Still, there are reasons this show has endured for 50 years. While not subtle, Rice and Webber’s songs are mostly effective. The simplicity and familiarity of “Superstar” make it a show with wide appeal.
And, even in the sketchy way it’s presented here, this is a great story. Some would say the greatest story — although, as is so often the case with adaptations and as many have pointed out before me, the book is better.