JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber is an ancient tale of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ and the betrayals and loss of faith from his people as seen through the eyes of Judas. With resounding rhythms and rock opera flourishes, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR has entertained audiences since its 1971 opening on Broadway. The music is complex, the story is old but relevant – for a community theater to pull this off, there needs to be passion. A passion so strong that nothing can stop it, and the audience must have faith in the actors, crew, musicians, and production team. The Wilmington Drama League is Christ, the patrons its congregation.
On Friday evening, as the lights went down, I prepared myself for what would be JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR as performed by the Wilmington Drama League. The show began strong with an opening montage that brought us back to many famous speeches that took place throughout the 20th century telling the audience that this timeless tale would be told in the present day. The set was created with metal ramps and brownstone steps to simulate a city, probably one where homelessness and poverty have run amok. The opening of the show was a brilliant way to envelop the audience and draw them in for what would be an eye opening, yet uncomfortable, journey into the psyche of Judas.
The show got off to a rocky start with an opening night cast plagued by sound issues. Unfortunately for these talented actors, their voices could not be heard for many of the songs that would lay out the exposition of the story. The sound issues really took hold during Brendan Sheehan’s (Judas) opening number when he tried to express his dissatisfaction with Rick Fountas’ Jesus. Sheehan compensated the best he could with this technical snafu. The first act played on with the cast working very hard to overcome the sound issues and trying to sing over the magnificent orchestra.
As Act II got underway, I was worried that the sound issue might be more complicated than a short 15 minute intermission would suffice to fix. I was wrong. The technicians quickly worked during that intermission to correct the error and all was right in the theater world again. In fact, Act II is where the actors were really able to shine and show off their voices, if not their characterizations. Sheehan’s characterization of Judas was the only strong and well developed character, as we watched him betray his best friend and, ultimately, right that wrong by….sorry no spoilers here…you just have to see it to believe it. Director, Chris Turner, took some calculated risks with this production, and once the sound issues were rectified, those risks paid off. Fountas’ falsetto was powerful and only bettered by originator of the role, Ted Neeley.
Other standouts during the show were Mark Brainard as Caiaphas, whose deep voice resonated throughout the theater as he attempted and succeeded in being a part of the downfall of Judas, and Kristin Romero Sheehan (Mary) whose beautiful voice gave the audience an opportunity to find some comfort is what is a very poignant and uncomfortable retelling of the story of Christ. The highlight of the evening was certainly Steven Weatherman. His portrayal of Herod brought down the house and was a much needed three minutes of comic relief. The choreography by Jody Anderson was brilliant during this number and evoked belly laughs throughout the house.
All in all JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was a respectable representation of Rice’s and Webber’s score and story; the acting just did not seem to live up to the expectations of the director’s vision. The singing in this production was amazing, but I would have liked to have seen the actor’s match that with characterizations that made the audience feel the anguish and suffering of these characters.
The Wilmington Drama League’s production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR runs through September 27th.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Chris Turner
September 12 – 27, 2014
Wilmington Drama League
10 W Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE 19802