JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – “Rock Opera” Comes to Narberth

by Lila Achuff

Really… oh, this isn’t going to be easy. Please know, before I get started, that I’m all about supporting local theatre. We’re not talking about expecting perfection here, but if “it” happens, we ought to consider ourselves very lucky. In other words, occasionally we get way more than what we paid for. For this production, if you’re familiar with this show and some of its more popular songs (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, “What’s the Buzz?” and my fave, “Everything’s Alright”), go and enjoy!

(l. to r.) Jim Goniea, Stacy Smith and Tom Lamphere in a scene from Narberth Community Theatre's production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, playing in Narberth PA through March 26.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, first released as an album in 1970 (Did you know that?), is an embellished interpretation of the last week of Jesus’ life, from his arrival with his disciples in Jerusalem to his crucifixion. More specifically, it focuses on the political and personal struggles between Jesus and Judas, his betrayer. With Andrew Lloyd Webber as composer, lyrics by Tim Rice, this is the first of their musicals to be produced on a professional stage. It had a brief run on Broadway in 1971 but an eight–year run on the London stage. Interesting. In 1972, JCSS was nominated for five Tony Awards. Much controversy surrounded the show; it was especially condemned by both Christians and Jews. A motion picture of JCSS followed in 1973. Remember that? (Me neither.) The year 2000 rang true for the production when it won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. I heard it was OUTSTANDING! 

Ok…let’s go with the “good” first… it’s much more exciting for me. The choreographer, Joanne McBride, did very well with her “gang” of dancers… it all looked lively enough for those days! As a choreographer myself, I might have arranged them differently as they often seemed to be in one big moving clump onstage. Just stand back and look from different angles in the house.

From here on, I’ll go with “Everything’s Alright”: acting, costumes, sets, lights. One “up” is King Herod (Vincent Capriotti) who was a hoot, reminding me of Zero Mostel in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. (Ever play Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”? Go for it! Keep me posted.)

So I get the “rock” part in “rock opera” as we are to consider how modernized (?) this show is (and at the time it was written – it was!). If you’re going to act “cool”, then be “cool”, i.e., wear “cool” clothing. Get into it! Hippie-ish, “now”, whatever. Take your pick…Make strong choices!

It’s an “opera”? Well, sure, because it’s sung all the way through – that’s one definition of an opera – but the music here is not operatic – and the singing ranged from decent to shrill. Unfortunately, the overpowering music of the band contributed to this cacophonous sound. Tone it down, guys! Except for the sweet, clear singing of Mary Magdalene (Stacy Moscotti), many of the lyrics were not always understood. More work on harmonizing was needed. It also didn’t help that the sound system was seriously flawed. 

In the song where Jesus’ followers are surrounding him and lifting him up, he kept popping up like a bouncing ball. It would have been more effective to slow it way down and let us, the audience, feel his pain. Can’t sing and lift? Have lifters separate from singers. Work it out.

The changing of the sets was rather noisy and it needs to be coordinated with the lighting. Lights down, change set … more practice here, again, would have improved the outcome.

It’s a huge challenge to put a show together with a group that’s in it for fun, socializing, the love of theatre and/or whatever else their personal reasons might be. We all know you’re doing your very best for us. What more can we ask for?

Until the next show…

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Linda Galati Hunt
March 11 – 26, 2011
Narberth Community Theatre
206 Price Avenue
Narberth, PA 19072

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