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Jesus Christ Superstar (Review)

Carnegie gets the formula right for Superstar

By Rick Pender · December 17th, 2008 · Onstage
The Carnegie in Covington has spent several years in search of the best way to present musicals on the small, tight stage in its renovated Otto M. Budig Theatre. With this month’s minimally staged but aggressively choreographed production of Jesus Christ Superstar the formula now seems evident: Put the energy into the performance, keep the production simple and let the passion do the dazzling. Working with Northern Kentucky University’s Commonwealth Theatre Company and theater professor Ken Jones, the Carnegie finally offers a show that uses the theater effectively.

Admittedly, Superstar is an odd choice for December, retelling Christ’s last seven days. But Jones has assembled a talented and energetic cast plus a joyful chorus of two dozen in the theater’s balcony to create a performance with musical power and emotional impact.

The resonant electric guitar chords of the overture sound the call, and Roderick Justice as Judas answers powerfully with “Heaven on Their Minds.” (Justice was a CEA nominee for this role in Jones’ 2004
NKU production.) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score can be a tad trite and repetitive, but with the aerobic choreography created by Jane Green and Justice (who also designed the costumes), this production makes great use of rapid melodies to create stage pictures that are visually arresting.

As Jesus, NKU junior Tim Hein has a great voice, although he played the role with too much piety and agony, almost becoming a caricature. Katie Henn (Mary Magdalene), Nick Vannoy (the priest Caiaphas), Nik Alexsander (the conflicted Pontius Pilate) and Jim Stump (as razzledazzle King Herod) also offered strong vocal performances.

The pomposity of Webber’s music and director Jones’ tendency to stress the angry side of this story occasionally reduces this show to histrionics, but Justice and Hein keep it real as we see the ebb and flow of their symbiotic relationship. This production reminded me why Jesus Christ Superstar made waves in 1971.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, presented by the Carnegie Center and Commonwealth Theatre Company, continues through Dec. 28



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