Theatre: Issue 53, May 1993

Theatre: Thanatos and Jesus Mania


Jesus Christ Superstar 93’ tour
Capitol Theatre April 9

When asked, “Well … how was it?” I could only reply, ‘It sure wasn’t The Phantom of the Opera!” Although the compositional music score hails from the same brilliant mastermind, Andrew Lloyd Webber, placing these two musicals in the realm of some sort of categorical imperative is defeatist.

Act I opened with obvious microphone obstruction. The cast of dancers lacked the zest of performance training. The staging was an appropriate grandiose spectacle and the costuming implemented a cross-cultural blend, time-honored through interspersed generations. Carl Anderson, who played Judas Iscariot, came to us with a flat-top haircut. Ted Neeley’s Jesus vocals on “Weather The Storm” are an anticlimactic representation of the former mid-70’s.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way!!! Until informed of Anderson’s and Neely’s inclusion, I deferred from attending. When announced, I jubilantly decreed “They can come out there with canes and walkers, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” The Jesus Christ Superstar movie soundtrack was my first album at nine-years-old and remains the cherished favorite. Growing up a troubled, reclusive child, I often sought refuge on strains of “Hosanna” on the outskirts of our Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary School playground … or hours of imaginative playacting their roles. Purposely, I entered the theatre with no preconceived expectations and left the show in better spirits, cured of the personal plague of melancholic anhedonia. The “woman element” served it’s expository mission.

The music expunged the contemporary jazz-funk genre, losing the earlier rock-based emphasis. This undoubtedly lightened the dramatic overtones. The manic-flamboyant attire exuded Rastafarian-purple hues, replacing the earth bound desert, mystic tones of the 70’s costumes. Invariably, the promotional theme of multi-racialism complimented the program.

As an aside, the initial Broadway musical was recorded as “The Brown Album,” an inferior, hackneyed and dispassionate interpretation. The current tour features the movie and musical cast, rich in all its folklore and glamour. To this we owe the flush, spine-tingling chilled sensations of what Caiaphas termed “This Jesus Mania.” The satirical, political banners mock our modern society for all it endorses and our celebration of vigilant dream makers, discounting the insanity factor of religious empresarios, including Jesus of Nazareth. Just as Simon the Zealot bellows of “power and glory,” offering the blind followers a figurehead.

STYX‘s Dennis DeYoung is an incompetent Pontius Pilate, failing to deliver the snide, articulate and abrasive quality necessary to the character (excessive vibrato, too). The temple scene lacks a sinister vernacular, opting for a Mardi Gras display, and on the whole I found the numbers compacted in length which detracted from overall cohesion.

Irene Cara was missing and replaced by another black synth-pop Mary Magdalene. Ho-hum. 

The betrayal by Judas at “The Last Supper” was a rushed reluctance and condensed goddamnit! Even the side glances were played down. But King Herod stole the highlight. Laurent Giroux was Rocky Horror incarnate. Indulgent, burlesque, gothic and mooning the audience in his g-string. Touche!

Not once have I ever kept a dry eye during Neeley’s “Gethsemane” and his shrilling vocal high-registers floured the house. “The Crucifixion” and “John Nineteen Forty-One” lent a different outcome and altered formidably. Special effects? Understatement. The use thereof entailed the indescribable (therefore I decline). And of course, a well-deserved standing ovation. Mark you, this production and tour will never arise again. Henceforth, the world will go back to its warring speculation over the identity of Christ and all the theoretical dilemmas it encompasses. Was Jesus the definitive Messiah resurrected as God? Merely a wise (rabbi) teacher and idealist? Ethereal mystic? Bleeding-heart martyr? Myth or man? Fanatical, benevolent megalomaniac?

One thing is certain, he was Jesus Christ Superstar. As long as Thanatos (death instinct) exists, Jesus lives on in US, lest we perish.

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Art Space: Ballet
Art Space: Opera