Saturday, December 22, 2007

Musical Review - Jesus Christ Superstar

Saw Jesus Christ Superstar last night – with Ted Neeley, the Jesus from the 1974 film in the lead role. I had seen this show about 15 years ago in Cupertino (the Flint Center) with him and Carl Anderson (also from the film) as Judas, and that performance was incredible.

Last night was pretty stellar as well.

Ted’s voice was raggy in general, and it was honestly a bit tough to stomach a 64-year-old Jesus who looked more like Willie Nelson, but it didn’t really matter. For a lot of people, Neeley is so good at this role that he IS Jesus.

You have to give the guy props for playing this role for the last 35 years. (When he sings the line “after all, I’ve tried for 3 years – seems like 30,” I wanted to say, “dude it HAS been 30).

I was wondering if he’d be able to hit those screaming highs and indeed had some trouble here and there. But in general he can still hit ‘em and I had hair standing up on my arms in a number of spots.

Of course, it didn’t help that my wife wrecked the moment for me in Neeley’s big song Gethsemane by leaning over to say that it looked like Jesus had ‘party tits.’ But actually, with his shirt off in the crucifixion scene, he looks great for his age. If I look half that good at 64, I will be a very happy older guy. This dude is very fit.

The guy who really stood out was Cory Glover of Living Color fame (Cult of Personality) who absolutely KILLED in the Judas role (no pun intended). He sang his ass off and his acting was great too. In the scene where he is remorseful about the betrayal and then hangs himself, the dude really ACTED. It was captivating.

The guys who played Pilate (Craig Sculli), Herod (Aaron Fuksa) and Simon (Matthew G. Myers) were also fantastic. The Herod scene, which is really campy in the movie, was played up in a big way and got the night’s only laughs. Craig Sculli as Pilate showed more compassion than any Pilate I have ever seen in JCS. That role for me is the most powerful, and they cast it really well.

Overall, every time I see the show, watch the movie or crank the soundtrack, I am reminded of how good a job Lloyd-Webber and Rice did on this. There is so much character development in this play. With just a very well-written line or two, you get deep insight into how a character is feeling or what kind of context the scene is running in.

I generally hate musicals, by the way, and I have checked out many other Lloyd-Webber/Rice soundtracks (Cats, Evita, Phantom of the Opera) and I am not a big fan. It’s just all too campy and Broadway for me. I guess I like JCS because it’s so rock and roll, and the music alone is worth a listen. I actually know every word to this thing, after listening to it non stop in high school and watching the film countless times.

(A buddy and I actually re-wrote the whole script in high school to apply to some a-hole administrators. I still have the typed draft – called “Mike Speckman Superstar.”)

By the way, count all the different time signatures in the music. You get 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, 7/8 etc. It’s all over the map and it’s really interesting.

Anyway, it was good seeing Neeley again in this role, but next time I might actually seek out an all-new cast to see what kind of twist they can put into it. Long live Ted Neeley!


Dr. John said...

I whole heartedly agree with your review. I saw the same show last spring here in NJ, and it kicked ass! I was a little worried that Ted Neely would not be able to hit the high notes ("get out, they're waiting, GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!!) but he had no trouble at all. Sounded like I was listening to the original soundtrack.

Michael said...

Yup, I saw what may have been the same show Paul did, and it was the best of the half-dozen or so live JCS's I've seen over years past. All of Paul's points are dead-on. Also points for the way the soundtrack was performed: the dynamics, tempos, etc. really backed up the tension on the stage. I wasn't just pleasantly surprised on critical levels, I was absorbed and affected as a viewer. Great night!