In the last seven days of Jesus’ life, according to Jesus Christ Superstar, he was revered as a celebrity. Think Justin Bieber without the paternity suit and smooth moves. Swooning girls can’t keep their eyes off him, men want to be him or be friends with him, and everyone believes he has the key to making life better. But his reign is coming to an end and the only comfort he can provide is this: stop worrying about tomorrow because everyone’s path has already been decided by God.
Many liberties have been taken when it comes to this musical written by theater legends Andrew Lloyd Webber (Phantom of the Opera) and Tim Rice (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). While it doesn’t follow the Gospels word for word, it does explore the conflict between Jesus and Judas, the apostle that eventually betrays him. In this Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts production, Jesus (Danny Amy) is mostly found in the spotlight while Judas (John Hudson) lurks in any dark corner he can seek out.
Jesus Christ Superstar, with no spoken lines and sung from beginning to end, is a challenging piece of theatre and Merrick Theater mostly does it justice. Triple threat, Danny Amy, who stars as Jesus, also directed the production and designed the set. That’s a lot for one person to juggle but Amy comes through. His Jesus is tortured yet charismatic and he emerges as a strong leader as soon as the lights come up. As his foil, John Hudson plays Judas passionately but is often unable to achieve the correct range during his numbers.
With impressive choreography by Jennifer Amy and lighting design by Scott M. Eckers, the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar is strongest when working in tandem. Numbers like “The Last Supper” and “Pilate and Christ” are powerful and dynamic. They utilize the space of the theater effectively, prowling and twirling through the audience and inhabiting even the back stage -- their voices achieving a surround sound.
Most delightful is Ryan Nolan as sauntering King Herod in his hysterical vaudevillian number. Bob Hertz and Tim Kurtzberg give resilient performances as the priests who adamantly believe that Jesus is a threat. Roger Leonardis is a domineering Pontius Pilate, while Corryn David as Mary Magdalene continually brings down the house with her vocals. And though only featured once, Kyle Perry gives the audience a commanding performance as Simon.
With the recent announcement of Jesus Christ Superstar moving to Broadway in the spring of 2012, the timing of Merrick Theatre’s production couldn’t be any better. While this musical effectively depicts the downfall of two men in varying degrees, it is the ensemble that creates a steadfast foundation for this production, while smoothly handling the transitions between exhilarating rock moments and horrific tragedy.
Jesus Christ Superstar is being presented by the Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts in Merrick, New York until December 11. Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturdays at 8:30pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm. For more information, please visit their website or on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Merrick Theatre & Center for the Arts