Friday, February 8, 2019

Jesus Christ Superstar—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland


    “Look What They’ve Done to my Song?!”


    This classic rock opera has lyrics by Tim rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is directed by James Charles, with choreography by Christopher George Patterson and music direction by Adam Young (Producing Artistic Director, Kirk Mouser).  It is playing in the Brunish Theatre (4th floor) at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    There are many, often conflicting, stories of Jesus over the years and no real historical references to him.  The New Testament is probably the most widely read account but it was written after He lived on earth.  And some books were 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 the betrayer, Judas, all having their say.  Novels such as, “The DaVinci Code,” “I, Judas” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” attempted also to flesh out the Jesus story, as well as this opera and the musical, “Godspell.”

    This rock opera skirts on many of these issues, giving us a sketchy but powerful rendition of His final days on earth.  It seems that Judas (Gabriel Lawson), has seen the handwriting on the wall for all those opposing Rome and has mistakenly thought that Jesus (Morgan Mallory), the leader of the pack, means overthrowing Rome when talking about a new kingdom, not a heavenly one, which is really Jesus’s mission, 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 conflicts 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 (Hannah Sapitan), falls in love with Him.  Jesus is abandoned by his own religion’s priests, led by the worldly, Calaphas (Gregory Brumfield), because they have an uneasy but profitable relationship with the Romans.  One of his own followers, Judas, betrays him in order to persuade Him to get His head “out of the clouds,” perhaps.  But the acting head of the local government, Pilate (Bruce R. Kyte), can find no fault in this “innocent puppet” and Herod (Steve Coker) actually makes fun of him.  But His mission must be fulfilled and Jesus dies on the cross for it.

    Because of this, a whole new movement was begun, one of the most powerful in the world today and, justifiably, we can say, has created a “Superstar!”  The entire story is told in song, dance and music.  His followers reminded me of the hippie movement during the 60’s and, in Jesus’s day, probably might have had a similar kinship with Him.  The tricky part, in such interpretations, is to marry the human and the spiritual Jesus in this role and here it is done well.

    The famous songs are all there.  My personal favorite being, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” beautifully sung by Sapitan.  Also, the showstopper, “King Herod’s Song,” mockingly rendered by Coker, who is super, 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 Lawson in “Heaven on their Minds” and “Judas’s Death,” powerful.  And Mallory in “Gethsemane.”  And the band, Young and company, was outstanding, as well as the dance numbers, Patterson, equally amazing.  Charles has cast it perfectly and has woven all the intricate story details and songs into a moving production.

    Acting was also top notch.  Hope to see more of Sapitan on stage, as a singer and actor, as she is worth watching as the conflicted Mary; Coker is always a scream in a comedic role; Kyte is a standout as the quirky Pilate; and hope to hear more from the basso tones of Brumfield.  The entire cast is a marvel!

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

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