Now More than 50 Years Old, 'Jesus Christ Superstar' Delivers

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 26, 2022

A scene from the national company of "Jesus Christ Superstar"
A scene from the national company of "Jesus Christ Superstar"  (Source:Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

The fiftieth anniversary of one of the most popular rock musicals —- "Jesus Christ Superstar — has come and gone. That happened two years ago when one of the best-selling albums of all time was released. That album (with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice), is unique in being based on Gospel accounts of the Passion. It was adapted for Broadway a year later with a musical production that added modern sensibilities: Rock music and clothing that would seem out of place in ancient Jerusalem. The current national touring production brings more of that, with fantastic results.

Seen through the eyes of Judas (an electric Pepe Nufrio), it tells of Jesus's (Aaron LaVigne) meteoric rise in popularity, likening it to a charismatic rock singer who touches the masses with his musical talents.

There is no lack of eye-popping choreography here, thanks to Drew McOnie's choreography that is flawlessly weaved through the production in a style that evokes Gospel choir dancing. And with the orchestra on stage throughout (though in the background and dimly lit), the music is most definitely part of the magic — notably, when LaVigne pours his heart out when he dons a guitar for a powerful solo,"Gethsemane." But it's Nufrio who dazzles with "Judas' Death," which stops the show. His voice is incredible, and sends his emotions to the rafters.

The TV-variety show-inspired set design is perfect for "Superstar," with such splashy touches as lighted crosses and concert lighting giving it a big performance feel. Detailed directorial choices by Timothy Sheader are inspired, such as "marking" Judas' hands with silver paint and having the twelve disciples wear mask during the Last Supper, meant to evoke the famous DaVinci painting.

Sheader puts his energetic cast through some rigorous movement over the show's highly enjoyable 90 minute (with no intermission) running time. Accompanying LaVigne and Nufrio are some standouts: Jenna Rubaii as Mary, Alvin Crawford as Caiaphas, and Tommy McDowell as Peter. As King Herod, Paul Louis Lessard makes the most of his show-stopping number "King Herod's Song," a song that delighted audiences long before King George did so in a similar moment in "Hamilton.''

The fiftieth anniversary tour is well worth a look; hearing this classic music in a new light is a spectacular experience.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" runs through January 30th at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) 220 Weybosset Street, Providence RI 02903. 220 Weybosset Street, Providence RI 02903. For information or tickets call 401-421-2787 or visit www.ppacri.org.

The National tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" continues through August 7, 2022. For more details, visit the show's website.