The theme for Kelsey Theatre’s 2014-2015 season is “Rolling Out the Classics” and the numerous theater companies it hosts are fully engaged in that premise. The current show in residence at the Kelsey is Playful Theatre Productions’ JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, surely a classic rock opera by anyone’s estimation.
Originally presented as a concept album in 1970, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR had its official Broadway debut in 1971 and over the years has been performed throughout the world. The album, and the subsequent staging, depicts Lyricist Tim Rice’s interpretation of the last seven days in the life of Jesus and presents Jesus as a character at odds with the Jewish elders of Jerusalem, the Roman government in power, and also with his disciple and close ally, Judas Iscariot.
Unfortunately for the Playful Theatre, opening night was beset by a major technical problem involving its light board. In true theater tradition, the show must go on, and did; kudos to the cast, orchestra and technical staff for rising above the lighting issues.
Director Frank Ferrara and Musical Director Shannon Ferrara have assembled an energetic cast, though Frank Ferrara’s use of modern-day costuming and props (Apostles with smartphones!) was evocative of another popular religious musical – GODSPELL. One interesting and personal touch was allowing some cast members to accompany themselves musically.
Opening night highlights included Michael Scibilia, who gave a powerful performance as Jesus, hitting all the right notes not only musically, but emotionally. Rice’s lyrics infuse the role with great emotional and psychological conflict as Jesus struggles to understand and accept the fate handed down by God, and delivered to him by the betrayal of Judas (Richard Damaso). Scibilia was very successful in portraying these shifting feelings. Evan Bilinski was most foreboding and displayed impressive vocal range in his portrayal of Caiphas, the High Priest. Ben Simons’ Pontius Pilate was a distinct pleasure, his voice and performance evocative of Pilate’s struggle to keep the peace in Judea while offering Jesus every opportunity to escape with his life.
It seemed a “strange thing, mystifying” (to borrow some lyrics from Judas) that the show ended with no curtain call. It felt almost disrespectful to the cast, as well as to the orchestra sharing the stage with the actors. It’s also uplifting for the audience to show its appreciation via the curtain call, and being denied the opportunity is disconcerting.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR runs through November 16.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Frank Ferrara
November 7-16, 2014
Playful Theatre Productions
The Kelsey Theatre at Mercer
Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NY 08550