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Jesus Christ Superstar -03/26/1999

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Original Broadway production conceived by Tom O'Horgan. Cast: James R. Bean, Lawrence Sanders, Mindy Manolakes, Charles Lee, Tim Huff, Brandon T. Washington, John Tilford, Christopher Sutton, Jonathan Timmerman, Tom Hieronymous, Rick Welchans, Greg Ferrar, Jorden Clark, Kirby Crawford, Stan Hamilton, David heckman, Mark Hege, Nathan Hieronymous, Kevin Moore, Heath Morber, Ryan Beckett, Courtney Lewis, Fran Malloy, Kristina McCollam, Micah Lynn Sanders, Tim Clark, James H. Hays Jr, Steve Knepler, Skippy Olson, Steve Schenk, Bob Shair, John Stuff, Steve Wachala, Jesse Williams, Steve Wood, Laura Baird, Julie Beckman, Molly Blaford, Rebecca A. Burmila, Morgan Mallory Dietkus, Heather Drew, Katie Ducher, Karen Evans, Jackie Langdon, Kelly F. Maxwell, Tasha Mehne, Kathi Murphy, Amy Packer, Trisha Whitkanack, Katie Beaulin, Max Beshers, Elizabeth Clarkson, Carly Drewes, Kelsey Anne Lee, Rachel Linsmeier, Adam Marsh, Becky Nerone, Hannah Snyder, Tyler Stein, Ashley Burnett, Aaron Clark, Allison Elliott, Lori Hedberg, Heather Johnson, Anne Knight, Laura Lynch, Abby Olson, Mike Piwoni, Bridget Pleines, Jennifer Reiter, Tina Rusher, Jodie Shpritz. Stage and Vocal Director: David Barkley. Orchestra Director: David Bohn. Choreographer: Robin Levine. Light Designer: Chris Teboe. Set Designer: Tim Huff. Sound Designer: Doug Gherna. Costume Designer: Leonard Rumery.

CUTC at the Virginia through March 28.

The Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park, Champaign. Box Office: 355-3636.


Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" may be the only Broadway show around that started its life as a record album.

Way back in about 1970, before Lloyd Webber was known for his golden touch, producers were unwilling to take a chance on this bold and controversial musical. But composer Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice somehow managed to get their album out. With a hot record behind it, the show itself became possible.

In the CUTC's Virginia Theater production, you can still tell that "Jesus Christ Superstar" began its life as more of a "concept album" than a book musical. Billed as a rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar" has no libretto to speak of, no dialogue, and very little stage business -- this story of Christ's last days is told completely through a string of musical numbers, all of them with a blazing rock beat.

Interestingly enough, "JCS" (as we called it then) still seems risky and daring -- at times too irreverent or too loud or just too much -- for any old audience. Thirty years have not dampened its independent spirit.

Director David Barkley seems to have taken the show's musical roots to heart, emphasizing the vocal side of the production. Although he is working with a huge cast, and they are shown to good advantage in a few big production numbers, this production clearly depends upon the voices of its principal players. That means the music sounds good (except for a few opening night lapses in the orchestra -- especially the brass section -- and fluky microphones) but the feeling that a story is being told is somewhat absent.

As Jesus, James R. Bean displays an excellent, full-throttle pop/rock voice throughout, although his vocal performance is somewhat diminished by a lack of physical and emotional presence. I could also have done without the "screechy" aspects of a few of his songs, even if I seem to recall those same choices on the original album I have hiding in my garage somewhere.

If Jesus is the center of the show, it is Judas who starts the show, and Judas who fares best in this production. Lawence Sanders is very assured vocally, and he also presents the evening's most fully-rounded character. From an excellent opening with "Heaven on Their Minds" all the way through to Judas's harrowing death, Sanders commands the stage.

Mindy Manolakes sounds very pretty and sweet as Mary Magdalene on a curiously cheerful rendition of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and a simply staged, very welcome "Could We Start Again, Please," where she is teamed with an equally melodic Jonathan Timmerman as Peter.

Other voices of note include Charles Lee, tuneful as Pilate, and Greg Ferrar, who makes a small role as Priest #3 stand out.

Still, the show's biggest standout is Brandon T. Washington, in an electrifying turn as Simon.

In terms of production numbers, both "King Herod's Song" and "Superstar" move well, and the aggressive lighting and stark scaffolding of "This Jesus Must Die" make it come alive.

Although the costume design in general seems haphazard, the silvery tinsel sleeves in "Superstar" look very good.

In general -- for those who already know and love the score of "Jesus Christ Superstar," this production and its emphasis on the music will suit very well.

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