by Walter Bender

Randy Marcheski as Jesus in Center Stage Productions' JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, running at Neumann University this weekend only!

Center Stage Productions opened their 2011 summer production, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on Friday August 18. SUPERSTAR is, of course, the rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice based on the final days of Jesus Christ, culminating in his crucifixion. The musical began as a rock album, opening on Broadway in 1971 and has enjoyed many successful revivals through the years, including a recent tour starring Ted Neeley who has portrayed the title character for years after being an understudy in the original Broadway production.

Center Stage Productions’ show features a very strong cast of singers, led by Randy Marcheski in the title role. Randy has a beautiful voice and handles most of the music in this very demanding role well. Danny Marcheski is Judas, the man who betrays Jesus (and who, in the musical, is written as a tragic figure that does what he must.) In some ways, Judas is the true star of the show, as the production centers on the conflict Judas suffers with that leads to the tragic conclusion. Jessica Fields portrays Mary Magdalene emphasizing her love for Jesus. They are joined by a large cast of singers and dancers who all work very hard to bring this production to life.

The set is minimal, a large construction center stage and a ramp stage left from which many of the entrances take place. The set is more modern, with chain link fencing and trash cans among the pieces on the stage. The orchestra is stage right in full view of the audience, but this does not detract from the action on stage. I wasn’t quite sure of the purpose of the central piece, as it didn’t seem to have a good shape and was too far upstage for the actors to use effectively. An audience’s attention is naturally drawn to center, and at times the set was distracting. The lighting showcased the actors beautifully, alternately using area lighting and full staging to draw the audience in. Costumes were for the most part contemporary in style to emphasize the timelessness of the story.

First-time director Billy Rinick did a nice job moving his actors around and keeping the pace moving. However, he needed to spend a bit more time working with the cast on the emotional connection to the material. When an actor is singing a ballad, the vocal style should reflect the emotion of a piece, not belt it out. And at times, the actors seemed to be more involved in the rock interpretation than in the subtext of the material. This is difficult enough with a “regular” musical, but with a show like this the text has to be the star. Musical Director Samantha Rodgers did a fine job with the ensemble and orchestra, with very few blips in the evening’s performance. The choreography by Gina Veith was energetic, albeit a bit repetitive at times, and once again sometimes missing that emotional connect with the material.

Overall, Center Stage Productions did a nice job with some very difficult material. There is much to like and a lot to enjoy in this short-run production.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Billy Rinick
August 18-21, 2011
Center Stage Productions
The Fred P. Meagher Theater
Thomas A. Bruder, Jr. Life Center
1 Neumann Drive
Aston, PA 19014
Ticket reservations: 610-558-5626

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