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The Miami Herald reviews the US Tour

Christine Dolen, Miami Herald

26th January, 2004

A Broadway veteran’s performance as Jesus makes Superstar at the Jackie Gleason Theater more powerful and poignant.

These days, it’s Mel Gibson’s yet-to-be released The Passion of the Christ that’s generating controversial buzz. But in 1971, the buzz was all about Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera about the last seven days in a life that ended at 33.

Superstar itself is now 33, though you’d never know it from the brash, flashy revival that’s playing Miami Beach’s Jackie Gleason Theater this week.

Though this is the same production that stopped at the Broward Center last season, some key cast changes — particularly the presence of Broadway veteran Eric Kunze in the title role instead of rocker Sebastian Bach — make the current company both more powerful and more poignant.

With Gale Edwards’ staging of the 2000 Superstar Broadway revival as a template, director Kevin Moriarty juxtaposes contemporary visuals and energy onto the familiar Biblical story of farewell, betrayal, torture and crucifixion.

Clambering over catwalks and massive pillars, Jesus’ subversive disciples — who would look right at home in a production of Rent — sport camouflage pants and cans of graffiti-enabling spray paint. The Man Himself wears khakis, work boots and a white shirt that’s more Gap than Galilee. Caiaphas and his posse of priests resemble a cross between Star Wars storm troopers and villains who crib their style from the Matrix movies. When he’s in uniform, Pilate looks like a fashion-forward Mussolini.

None of the glitz — which includes a salty, vaudeville-style King Herod (backed by three curvy gals in sparkling pink Barbie-glam gowns) exhorting Jesus to ”. . . walk across my swimming pool” (inoffensive this show isn’t) — would matter if this company didn’t have so many performers of substance to pull it off.

Kunze has a gorgeously effective range, one that easily moves from a tender tenor to booming baritone. His solo on Gethsemane is heart-breakingly beautiful, and his strength and subtlety as a singing actor (vs. a thundering rocker) make the crucifixion scene discomfitingly vivid.

Also new to the production, Lawrence Clayton is an equally strong Judas, convincing from the outset as a man who knows hell all too well. Natalie Toro’s honey-voiced Mary Magdalene is a passionate rock chick who soothes the man she idolizes with calming song and a fleeting round of aromatherapy; most impressively, she finds a way to make the show’s biggest hit, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, her own.

Christine Dolen is The Herald’s theater critic.

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