Kicked gloriously into high gear from the very start by the ensemble band (Robert Diton, Director, keyboard; Caty Butler, bass; Max Dabby, horn; Colin Davis, trumpet; Kevin Hutter, saxophone; Daniel Kitching, guitar/keyboard; Andrew Mauro, lead guitar; Christopher Tolomeo, drum), who amped up the audience opening night, the intensity heightening as the vocal ensemble met the challenge of volume victoriously, parlaying the audio tension into their parts to good effect. Casualities consisted of a few hard to discern lyrics, however, the audience was highly won over, cheering many of the numbers.
As directed by Brian Miller and L. Jeffrey (Buzz) DiSabatino, this is not your stock rock opera; some of the rules and roles, have been… adjusted. For starters, Jesus in this production (soulfully portrayed by Randy Marcheski) defies the usual casting image profile, and the show’s countertenor role, Annas (mastered by Melissa Fernandez) is played by a woman, as are a few other traditionally male cast roles. The risk taken by the directors in diversifying the cast, as well as some experimental staging, appear to have paid off, in keeping with the musical’s origins.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, began circa 1970 as a (vinyl) record album by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, since in the beginning there wasn’t anyone they could interest in doing it as a stage production. Rice, the lyricist, was inspired in part by his imaginings as a youth of what the reality of Pontius Pilate’s or Judas Iscariot’s predicaments might have been like at that time. He later postulated and explored these questions to Webber’s rock and roll, gospel, classical and jazz compositions in what would later a become record breaking, though controversial, Broadway hit.
Neither technical nor health trials can keep a good cast down as evidenced by Dawn Shephard, whose portrayal of Mary Magdalene was wonderful, although she could not sing her part on opening night due to illness. Kendra Eckbold covered the singing beautifully from backstage, while Dawn did a highly credible lip-sync (hoping to see the show again, to hear Shephard’s lovely mezzo-soprano as Mary).
Kudos to the many ensemble members who play multiple roles with aplomb, changing keys and costumes in a flash, including Robert (Rib) Klein, Natesh Karna, Brian Miller (strong presence as Roman guards), Julie Lacontora, Samantha Moscony, Joel Watson, Sarajane Sein, Rebecca Smith, Nanci Smith, Claire Gerchman, Grace Gerchman, Nikki Gleason, Ken Price, Anthony Remer, Nicholas Marovecchio, Anne Travis, and the above mentioned Kendra Eckhold and Melissa Fernandez. David Reyne, in addition to other roles, plays a powerful, flashy, cool King Herod, especially in the outstanding up-tempo song and dance number “King Herod’s Song”. Joel Watson pulls off a sympathetic solemn Pontius Pilate, in key, in purple, besides portraying other parts. Vince “Doc” Thompson wrought a commanding Caiaphas, and Theodore Kogut lent a lovely voice to Peter. Anthony Vitalo absolutely rocks in the role of Judas Iscariot, from head to toe with his voltaic voice and physicality. Randy Marcheski gives his whole being to the role as Jesus of Nazareth, particularly in the disturbingly staged final act; very effective.
There were some minor technical glitches opening night, but again, kudos to cast and crew who were unflinching in performance. The multi-tiered set paired with lively lighting effects (L. Jeffrey “Buzz” DiSabatino), and enhanced sound (Martin Phillips-English) is a daring endeavor for Barnstormers, raising the bar for future productions. The dance numbers (Lori Walsh) were fun to watch, and the costumes (Melanie Reyne and Nanci Smith) were even more fun and flamboyant, ranging from traditional to mod, retro to ragtime.
During intermission one theater patron remarked to several others that the show was “electrifying”. Certainly there was much agreement, as the audience rose from their seats in applause at the finale.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Brian Miller and L. Jeffrey (Buzz) DiSabatino
March 28 – April 12
The Barnstormers Theater
402 Tome St
Ridley Park, PA 19078
NOTES: B.Y.O.B. Also, some strobe lighting is used.