BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
What’s the buzz on “Jesus Christ Superstar”? Let’s tell you what’s happening with the Broadway revival of the famous 1971 rock opera, which just opened at the Neil Simon Theater.
A generally well-sung and energetically performed production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical regarding the last days of Christ awaits fans of the show. Whether the musical’s charms attract a fresh generation of converts remains to be seen, but the faithful will not be disappointed.
Representing Webber in his liveliest, freshest pop mode, the score’s memorable rock tunes and driving rhythms remain as stirring as ever. Way back when, “Jesus Christ Superstar” was denounced and even picketed for being sacrilegious, but today Rice’s text seems surprisingly reverent if somewhat slangy in its treatment of the story.
Originally staged at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, director Des McAnuff’s production is sung and acted with force and conviction. McAnuff’s interpretation suggests that Judas was inspired more by jealousy over Jesus’ involvement with Mary Magdalene than any other motive.
A strong singer, Paul Nolan presents a slim, rapt figure as Jesus who contrasts against the rather frenzied Judas played by Josh Young (unfortunately plagued by vocal problems at Thursday’s opening). Chilina Kennedy is a cool-voiced Mary Magdalene. Perhaps the most impressive performance comes from Tom Hewitt as a lordly, dignified Pontius Pilate who turns desperately urgent in his final face-off with Jesus.
Bruce Dow’s campy King Herod is okay if nothing outrageous, but Marcus Nance’s sepulchral bass voice lends shivers to his depiction of the head priest Caiaphas. The ensemble sings the bejeepers out of the music while tearing through the highly aerobic choreography devised by Lisa Shriver that at times resembles a Zumba class.