REVIEW: Jesus Christ at Shea's
By ANTHONY CHASE
A rare moment of stasis from a production otherwise cluttered with frenetic, relentless, and meaningless choreography.
A negative review should always be undertaken with a sense of somber remorse. I regret to inform fans of Jesus Christ Superstar, and I can certainly be counted among them, that the current national tour of the show now at Shea’s is a disappointment.
To be fair, many members of the audience, primed to hear a live performance of this beloved show with its familiar score left the theater blissfully happy. There was one cute bit in which the cast struck the poses of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The use of Caesar masks on the Romans was kind of fun.
Beyond that, however, I am dumbstruck.
On my radio show I will simply report that the opportunity to experience a production of the landmark rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is available. I will write without the use of my program or notes to avoid the temptation to name anyone’s name.
The most immediate issue is the frenetic, relentless, and meaningless choreography. The large company danced this in unison, often resembling a 1980s MTV video. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” goes Christian, perhaps. (I vowed I would not get snarky, but humor is the great healer in my world). There was, on top of this gratuitous movement, a glitter-grunge Solid Gold Dancer who augmented musical numbers with equally gratuitous and distracting simultaneous dance solos.
The chorus was frequently unintelligible, even to me, even though I already know the lyrics. Soloists were generally emotionless, ironically while telling the story of the Passion of Jesus. I sensed that some performers, Judas in particular, might be battling vocal ailments, though he did gain strength as the evening progressed.
Other than the aforementioned Caesar masks, and the dipping of Judas’ hands into silver paint, which was sort of cool, other gimmicks in this gimmick heavy production added little or served to confuse. Jesus’ 39 lashes were administered in handfuls of snapping gold glitter, giving him a gold patina during the crucifixion that followed. Herod also gets the gold treatment, in a drag getup that would be perfect for lip-synching Shirley Bassey’s “Gold Finger.” The result is a performance of one of the world’s most familiar stories that was nearly incomprehensible.
In its defense, the tour is reportedly doing boffo business in every city, and the devoted Shea’s audience began its standing ovation even before the lights had come up for the curtain call. That’s show business.