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“Jesus Christ Superstar is still rocking, pushing edges.” – The Star Tribune reviews the US Tour

Rohan Preston, Star Tribune

21st October, 2004

When the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar rolled into town in January 2003, its star needed more than a prayer to fly. Miscast and out of his depth, metal rocker Sebastian Bach showed Jesus’ passion in a disturbing and unique way: He howled like a cat hurled from a 10-story window. And while Carl Anderson, who originated the role of Judas Iscariot nearly 30 years earlier, was strong in that production, he could not make up for Bach. (Anderson died in February of this year.)

So, with understandable trepidation, I went to Tuesday’s performance at the Orpheum Theatre, directed again by Kevin Moriarty with new leads. Boy was I surprised. The time-tested Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical still has a problematic book that shows a lack of imagination. Yet at a performance level, the production brought me happy chills.

The principals for this tour are outstanding: Lawrence Clayton as an R&B hot-throb Judas singing a mocking version of “Superstar”; Eric Kunze as pure rocker Jesus; and Natalie Toro, who was in the earlier production, as the beautiful and touching Mary Magdalene, who confesses “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” With their gorgeous performances, these players drew us deeply into the show instead of causing us to wince.

And it wasn’t only the leads who were noteworthy in a show that has beautiful scenic design by Peter Davison and was brightly conducted by Flint Hawes. Terrific singer Raymond Patterson played Pilate as a black Mussolini, his sternness matching his fascist costumes and his voice terrifying in his scene with Christ. Daniel Guzman was a stitch as King Herod in the glitzy, song salute to old Broadway. And Lawson Skala, who played the evil Caiaphas, was memorable on “This Jesus Must Die.” He seemed to pull a super-low, darkly frightening voice from the bottom of his feet, then play with it as if it were a yo-yo.

More than 30 years after it premiered, “Superstar” is still contentious. It plays with sacred images and beliefs in ways that continue to push boundaries. This story of how Jesus comes to cleanse the world of its sins of money and sex and is then betrayed by Judas has a lot of hipswiveling, sexy fun with the sinful parts. And it continues with a simplistic, black-white story line that is almost cartoonish.

The local presenters announced that they were doing a promotional ticket giveaway for “Superstar.” On Tuesday, over 700 showed up, many whistling after the show, “Jesus Christ, Superstar…”

Rohan Preston is at rpreston@startribune.com

 
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