Review: Hosanna! Jesus Christ Superstar at The Paramount

jesus christ superstar

The company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. (Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade)

Jesus Christ Superstar
The Paramount Theatre
October 05 – 10, 2021
Get tickets and more info here

*PROOF OF VACCINATION IS REQUIRED

The first production I ever reviewed was Jesus Christ Superstar, at The Paramount Theatre, nearly two decades ago. It is only fitting that the first production back at The Paramount – post pandemic – is Jesus Christ Superstar! Sing Hosanna! Theatre is back! The show to baptize Seattle’s theatre scene is the 50th Anniversary of this classic musical (pop opera) and the “Brown Bible” – the first ‘concept album’ to be released in advance of its stage production. Lift libation in praise that live theatre has returned.

After a sincere, heartfelt introduction by the Technical Director, a man that has spent his entire career at The Paramount, the audience was welcomed to the theatre. The lights went down. The energy was palpable. The band – which appears on the upper part of an onstage scaffold – started the recognizable orchestra. The production started to loud applause.

The story retells the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. Judas Iscariot (played by James T. Justis) tells the audience that they should separate ‘the myth from the man’ to see what he sees. Jesus (played by Aaron LaVigne) preaches to the crowds, who adore him. Judas is concerned the crowds are getting too much and too loud, as their adulation promotes Jesus from man to a godlike status. The High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, are concerned that Jesus’ popularity is getting out-of-control, and that a rebellion could erupt. Judas approaches the High Priests to figure out what to do, and is pulled into their plan for Jesus’ arrest and execution.

The High Priests Annas (played by Tyce Green) and Caiaphas (played by Alvin Crawford) are great as the ‘villains’ of the piece. Green has an edge to his voice that sounds of rock-n-roll. His appearance, as with the other High Priests, is precise and succinct. One could listen to the voice of Alvin Crawford all day, and not complain. His deep baritone is low, rich and his rolling thunder voice sets an eerie edge when observing Jesus and his crowd, especially when singing the refrain, “Jesus Must Die”.

Mary Magdalene (played by Jenna Rubaii) is the “fallen women” that is part of Jesus’ entourage. Her voice is soft and enticing. When singing the breakout number from the show, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, the audience is aware of the character’s sentiment and emotion for the man that lives on a more spiritual plane than human. It is the song, that was added late to the show, “Could We Start Again, Please” that Mary sings with Peter (Tommy McDowell) that exemplifies the emotions of seeing the beloved dream beginning to go wrong. The sentiment of the song is beautiful, haunting and is performed simplistically between the two characters.

Pilate (played by Tommy Sherlock) is put into an odd juxtaposition. The character is forced to harshly deal with a man that Pilate doesn’t want to be involved with at all. His voice has a rough edge and balances the inner torment of dealing with a man being called “the Messiah” when he clearly accuses, “You Jews produce Messiahs by the sacksful”. It is the role of Herod (played by Paul Louis Lessard) that is always the crowd-pleasing, flamboyant and humor-relief of the show. His character appears like the love child of David Bowie and Eddie Izzard, with flash and glitz. The song does not disappoint.

jesus christ superstar

The company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. (Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade)

The two leads are Jesus (played Aaron LaVigne) and Judas (played by James T. Justis). Both men do a good job of exploring their conflicting roles. Mr. LaVigne shows the audience his struggle (especially in the inner turmoil piece, “Gethsemane”) as he accepts his fate on a higher level, but is still fearful and hesitant as a man. It is Mr. Justis’ actions as the anti-hero that allows Mr. LaVigne to find his depths. Mr. Justis also shows his conflict of being Jesus’ “right hand man all along’ and yet, being the only one that can see the dangers of mob mentality and a man’s ego. His voice starts off soft, as his conflict builds, and by the time he sings “Blood Money”, he is in full voice and lets the audience know it! Keeping with tradition, Jesus is played by a Caucasian man, and Judas by a man of color. The obvious subtle implications of one being “light” and the other “dark” is only one way that the conflicts appear between these two men of God. Both have a role to play in the final destiny, and both have (reluctantly) accepted what they must do. It is in the final moments of the show that the two men sit next to each other in a paralleled moment, that asks the final question: “Could one have achieved their goals without the other?”

The cast of the show deserves a shout out. The Apostles and the general cast all do a great job acting as a single unit to support the main players. Nobody steals focus or tries to upstage, and the dancing (Dance Captain Courtney Arango) is simplistic, appealing and effective. The “Crowd Leader” (danced by Sarah Parker) sets the examples of how to move, while the crowd behind her takes up the call and beautifully synchronizes with her actions.

The staging of the show is definitely something to see. It’s a simplistic stage, consisting of compartmentalized sections of a wooden scaffold. It dominates the stage without upstaging the actors. It’s an open set that allows the action to be enacted without hindrance.

Jesus Christ Superstar was the second show written by the team – composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies), and lyricist Tim Rice (The Lion King, Evita). This reimagined production pays homage to the classic, double album “Brown Bible” version that swept the world in 1972. This production continues to use the more ‘rock concert’ approach, with minimal set, and more modern dress. The “Concept Album”, being the first of its kind to promote a show before it’s actual staging, starred Murry Head (Judas), Ian Gillan (Jesus) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary). The original Broadway production opened on the Great White Way on October 12, 1971 (almost exactly 50 years prior to the anniversary production at the Paramount Theatre). The original cast stared Jeff Fenholt (as Jesus – with understudy Ted Neeley, who later stared in the film), Samuel Wright (Simon), Yvonne Elliman (Mary) and Ben Vereen (Judas). Originally nominated for five Tony Awards (including Best Original Score and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Ben Vereen), the show did not win any, but has become a classic in its own right. The 1973 film version stared Ted Neeley (Jesus) Carl Anderson (Judas), Yvonne Elliman (Mary) and Joshua Mostel (King Herod). The film included a new song for Annas and Caiaphas called “Then We Are Decided”. The song “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” was originally written in 1967 with different lyrics, called “Kansas Morning”. The music would be (almost exactly) reused for the new song; a trick Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has used several times with his later musicals.

Jesus Christ Superstar
The Paramount Theatre
October 05 – 10, 2021
Get tickets and more info here

*PROOF OF VACCINATION IS REQUIRED

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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