Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In retelling the story of the last week of Jesus' life in more contemporary terms, Rice and Webber focus less on the spiritual aspects and more on the political. Jesus (Nicholas Edwards) is desperate, knowing the end is coming and uncertain about his resolve to fulfill his mission. (Edwards' wrenching performance of "Gethsemane" is a highlight.) Judas Iscariot (Ari McKay Wilford), in this production a guitar-playing malcontent, worries that Jesus has chosen earthly power over helping people cope with oppressive Roman rule, while Mary Magdalene (the peerless Natascia Diaz, beautifully straightforward) just wants to support Jesus in whatever battles he faces.
Calarco's vision of Superstar differs from previous productions in one important way: the presence of women as apostles, priests and, in the case of Sherri L. Edelen, the vaudevillian role of King Herod. (Choreographer Karma Camp gives her four male backup dancers and some delightfully zany dance moves.) Other Signature regulars include Bobby Smith, playing Pontius Pilate as a bureaucrat in a gray suit, and Thomas Adrian Simpson (stentorian) and Sam Ludwig (at the top of his vocal range) as the embattled priests Caiaphas and Annas.
Luciana Stecconi has designed an austere, cross-shaped playing area (with audience seating in the spaces between the arms), with tall candlesticks at each point and movable oblong structures that serve as seats, tables, beds, and whatever else is needed. Frank Labovitz's costumes are contemporary, while Zachary G. Borovay's projections ground the proceedings in first-century Judea.
Calarco understands the importance of striking and unexpected visuals, some filling the stage (Jesus purifying the temple in Jerusalem) and some more tightly focused (the death of Judas). However, his decision to use images of contemporary religious intolerance as the backdrop to the crucifixion goes too far; scenes of Christian and Islamic protestors are one thing, but including a photo of the burning World Trade Center towers cheapens one of the major events in recent history.