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REVIEW: “Jesus Christ Superstar” resurrected at The MET Theatre

From left: Dekontee Tucrkile, Kevin Corsini, Sandra Diana Cantu, Blair Grotbeck, Renee Cohen, Nate Parker (center), Anthony D. Willis, Alex Allen, Allison Jakubowski, Lauren Tyni, and Wesley Moran. Photo by Michael Lamont
From left: Dekontee Tucrkile, Kevin Corsini, Sandra Diana Cantu, Blair Grotbeck, Renee Cohen, Nate Parker (center), Anthony D. Willis, Alex Allen, Allison Jakubowski, Lauren Tyni, and Wesley Moran. Photo by Michael Lamont

Anyone of a “certain age,” will surely remember Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking rock musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar” that stormed Broadway’s Mark Hellinger Theatre on October 12, 1971. With the biggest box office advance in history, this was a controversial rock opera that embraced a variety of musical genres.

Despite receiving mixed reviews, it went on to win five Tony Awards and subsequently played at London’s Palace Theatre. The show ran for 3,358 performances becoming the longest running musical in West End history, grossing $12.3 million in box office receipts. Eventually, other professional productions were performed in 42 countries worldwide.

The DOMA Theatre Company took a big risk in producing this historic, iconic musical, as it would be exposed to comparisons to myriad earlier productions. Well, lucky for us they did, as this extraordinary production is a mind-blowing experience and one that taps into a cross-section of human emotions in a very visceral way.

Don’t be surprised if you experience goose bumps or a lump in your throat or even tears in your eyes as you hear the familiar songs sung by an incredibly amazing ensemble of young, mega-talented actors who either make you smile or tear your heart out as they take you through the life and times of the last five days of Jesus Christ’s life.

Under the brilliant direction of Marco Gomez, this is a re-imagined, dazzling production that utilizes social media and cell phones, including “selfies.” Performed in a mixture of modern dress and period costumes gorgeously designed by Lauren Oppelt, they run the gamut of genres from S & M leather outfits and solders dressed in military fatigues toting machine guns to feathery headpieces you might see in a Busby Berkeley musical.

What is particularly stunning is the candy-colored lighting design by Christina Schwinn who, with the aid of a fog machine, which enveloped the stage in a surreal hue, accomplished an ethereal look with both overhead and onstage flood lights, casting shafts of light on the performers. John Iacovelli’s fascinating multi-level scene design created the superb frame for the unfolding action. Angela Todaro choreographed mesmerizing production numbers spanning many genres, from modern tap to biblical ritualistic, all of which were executed in crack precision by these fabulous dancers. Of course, the backbone of this musical is the haunting Webber/Rice score and musical director Chris Raymond and his five-piece band serviced the music well.

Nate Parker in the title role of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo by Michael Lamont
Nate Parker in the title role of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Photo by Michael Lamont

This is a huge cast so it’s difficult to single out each and every performer but a few must be highlighted beginning with Jeremy Saje as Judas Iscariot. This young man with a huge voice sings his heart out as he tries to understand what Christ is doing.

He fears reprisals from the government if this new “savior” becomes too powerful.

His gut-wrenching opening number, “Heaven on Their Minds” sets the tone for his torment throughout the unfolding action, with each of his songs, including the “Damned For All Time/Blood Money,” rife with his desperate conflict and his ultimate unbearable guilt.

Nate Parker’s “Jesus Christ” is touching and “authentic.” Guided by Gomez’s direction, he avoided the pitfall of playing at being Jesus, but instead became a fully believable savior. Possessing a broad singing range, his voice is, well, heavenly, especially when he effortlessly climbs into falsetto, as in “Poor Jerusalem,” one of those many goose bump moments sprinkled throughout the evening. Other joyous moments with Parker’s Jesus include “What’s the Buzz” sung with Mary and the ensemble, and “Everything’s Alright” with Mary, Judas, and the company.

Among all the breathtaking scenes staged by Gomez, the most recognizable is the tableau of the disciples of Jesus as portrayed in Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” which historians have described as a Passover Seder and Jesus’ last meal before his crucifixion.

The other principal players, all of whom can easily sing lead roles on Broadway, include, Renee Cohen as Mary Magdalene, who does a good job with the haunting “I Don’t Know How to Love Him;” Kelly Brighton who wears a patch on one eye as Pontius Pilate and does an outstanding job with Pilate’s Dream; Graham Kurtz as Simon Zealotes is fascinating in Simon Zealotes, which he performs with the ensemble. Venny Carranza plays the outlandishly costumed Herod who, surrounded by a bevy of scantily clad beautiful men and women, brings comic relief with his “King Herod’s Song (Try it and See).”

Other main characters include the sinister-looking Caiaphas, perfectly embodied by Andrew Diego who, along with the Sanhedrins, is dressed in an austere black banker-type suit. Backed by the ensemble, he dramatically sings “This Jesus Must Die” and “Hosanna,” with Jesus. He also sings in other ensemble pieces including “The Arrest,” “Judas’ Death,” and “Trial Before Pilate/39 Lashes,” one of the more painful, but powerful scenes. Rounding out the talented principals is Blair Grotbeck as the conflicted disciple Peter and Michelle Homes’ Annas, both of whom add their beautiful voices in a number of the ensemble pieces.

Perhaps the most dramatic number is “The Crucifixion,” with Jesus and the ensemble. It is one of those moments that might very well make you gasp, but in the end you will be delighted that you got to see this unique, pitch-perfect revival of the historic “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

MET Theatre

1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029

Run: 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 7 pm Sundays

Tickets: $30 (Students/seniors $20)

Closes: March 22, 2015

Reservations: 323.802.9181 or www.domatheatre.com

Parking $6: 5250 Santa Monica Blvd. (two blocks from the theatre)

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