Monday, July 25, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar—Michael Streeter—SE Portland

The Judas Story—Redux

This classic Rock Opera has lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  It is directed by Michael Streeter, musical direction by Matt Insley and choreography by Kristin Heller, Jim Peerenboon and Michael Streeter.  It is playing at the Post 5 space in Sellwood, 1666 SE Lambert St., through August 20th.  For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/575335219307665/.

There are many, often conflicting, stories of Jesus.  The New Testament is probably the most widely read but there are many gaps in the years of Jesus’s life and some books suppressed by the Vatican, supposedly because their “authenticity” couldn’t be verified, but they also point to women (Mary) having a strong voice, mysticism (Thomas) and, of course, the betrayer, Judas, having his say.  The novels, “The DaVinci Code,” “I, Judas” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” by the author of “Zorba, the Greek,” being the most all-inclusive, I believe, of the Jesus story.  They talk about the marriage of Jesus, a possible child and probable motivation for Judas’s actions.

This Rock Opera (meaning all sung, no dialogue) skirts on these issues.  It seems that Judas (Ithica Tell), after the death of John, the Baptist (Michael Streeter), sees the handwriting on the wall for all those opposing Rome and professing to another God.  So he believes that this Kingdom that Jesus (Ernie Lijoi) preaches of is an earthly one, overthrowing the Romans.  But His kingdom is in another dimension, after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil.”  Needless to say, this political, militant, hot-headed Judas will butt heads with the more passive, more charismatic leader, Jesus.  And thus you have the traditional conflict necessary for any good story.

Jesus’s followers are faithful to Him, up to a point, and consist of the common folk, mainly fishermen and tradesmen, as well as women, one of which, Mary Magdalene (Jessica Tidd), who falls in love with Him.  But Jesus realizes the bloody path in store for Him and knows He must die in order that others may be saved.  Jesus is abandoned by his own religion’s priests, mainly Caiaphas (Nathan Dunkin), because they have an uneasy but profitable relationship with the Romans; one of his own followers, Judas, betrays him in order get Him to get His head “out of the clouds,” perhaps; and the acting head of the local government, Pilate (Damien Geter), can find no fault in this “innocent puppet;” regardless, the prophesy must be fulfilled and Jesus dies on the cross.

But, in the wake of His death and resurrection, a whole new movement was begun, one of the most powerful in the world today and, justifiably, we can say, has created a “Superstar!”  As mentioned, the entire story is told in song, dance and music.  The trick, of course, in such a small space when dealing with live music, is the level of sound.  Luckily the actors are well-miked and have strong voices.  For the most part I was able to hear the lyrics, which is a compliment to all involved.  Not only are they powerful singers but fine actors as well.  His followers reminded me of the hippie movement during the 60’s, especially Simon (Matt Rowning), a young man with a guitar strapped to his back and, in Jesus’s day, probably might have had a similar kinship.

The famous songs are all there.  My personal favorite being, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” beautifully sung by Tidd (also, hauntingly sung later by Tell).  Also the showstopper, “King Herod’s Song,” mockingly rendered by Herod (Brian Burger) and his dancing delights.  The familiar, “Everything’s Alright,” “What’s the Buzz…” and, of course, “Superstar,” are also given their full glory here.  I was also especially moved by Tell in “Heaven on their Minds” and “Judas’s Death,” powerful.  And Lijoi and Rowning were moving in “Poor Jerusalem” and Lijoi, again, in “Gethsemane.”  And the band, Insley and company, was outstanding, one of the best I’ve heard!

Streeter has done an amazing job of creating a very difficult production, finding some extremely talented people to compliment his vision and then offering it to us to enjoy, which I and my companion, Deanna Maio, did.  She is the creator of her own musical company, www.portlandmusicaltheater.org opening her first show in October with a revue of Disney songs in the old Mile Post 5 space.  And, being the expert in musicals, was very taken by the talent and production that was shared with us.

I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.