Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Jesus Christ Superstar
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Timon of Athens, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Master Class, and coverage of the 2017 Helen Hayes Awards


Nicholas Edwards and Cast
Photo by Margot Schulman
Jesus Christ Superstar was controversial from its first appearance as a concept album in 1970, not least for introducing the world to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the lyrics of Tim Rice. Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and director Joe Calarco have made a strong attempt to bring the authors' hippie-era view of Jesus of Nazareth into the 21st century, but the emotional moments are intermittent and the overall result is more admirable than moving.

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.

Signature Theatre
Jesus Christ Superstar
May 9th - July 2nd, 2017
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Jesus of Nazareth: Nicholas Edwards
Judas Iscariot: Ari McKay Wilford
Mary Magdalene: Natascia Diaz
King Herod: Sheri L. Edelen
Caiaphas: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Peter: Michael J. Mainwaring
Pontius Pilate: Bobby Smith
Simon Zealotes: Awa Sal Secka
Annas: Sam Ludwig
Priest: Kara-Tameika Watkins
Apostles: Vincent Kempski, David Landstrom, Calvin McCullough, Solomon Parker III, Jobari Parker-Namdar, Chris Sizemore, Harrison Smith, Korinn Walfall
Dance Captain: Kara-Tameika Watkins
Fight Captain: Chris Sizemore
Choreography by Karma Camp
Directed by Joe Calarco
Music direction by William Yanesh
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


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