Why do directors keep doing things to Jesus Christ Superstar, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's early musical, which opened last night at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts?
Twenty-nine years ago Tom O'Horgan was responsible for its critically reviled debut on Broadway. It had a run of 720 performances, due in no small part to the show's ad in the New York Times, which the critics of the day loudly complained quoted them completely out of context. By comparison, the original London production, which did not duplicate the excesses of Broadway, ran for eight years and 3,358 performances, the fifth-longest running West End show. Now Gale Edwards has directed a revival which, if not quite as bad as the original production, is notably lackluster on its own terms.
At its core, Jesus Christ Superstar, the story of Jesus Christ from Palm Sunday through the crucifixion, works best with a simple production and a cast of excellent singers who can also act. What we have been given is exactly the opposite, an overblown, trendy production employing a cast of decent singers, few of whom can act. This is the MTV Video version, if you will, populated by wimpy Rent doppelgangers, Matrix inspired Nazis, coke snorting Day Traders, Arabs with nuclear warheads, a Las Vegas lounge act, and a truly cringe making cinema verite finale.
Glenn Carter (Jesus), Frederick B. Owens (Caiaphas), and Kevin Gray (Pontius Pilate) carry the show as the only three performers onstage who are actually giving a good performance. Carter's bland innocence, which believably gives way to terror in the second act, and Owens' stately, measured, relentless persecution provide the only real drama of the evening. Gray's anguished Pilate provides the necessary context. Vocally sure and in sync with the demands of their roles, Carter, Owens, and Gray are the only reasons to see Jesus Christ Superstar.
Peter J. Davison's scenic designs are cold and monolithic. Roger Kirk's costume designs would have been fashionably trendy a few seasons ago, but now seem merely dated. Mark McCullough's lighting design is sadly predictable when it isn't inept. Richard Ryan's sound design is seriously flawed.
Jesus Christ Superstar Book and lyrics by Tim Rice. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Gale Edwards. Choreography by Anthony Van Laast. Scenic design by Peter J. Davison. Costumes by Roger Kirk. Lighting by Mark McCullough. Sound design by Richard Ryan.
Theatre: Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 214 West 43rd Street
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Audience: Children under 4 years of age will not be admitted
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: $26 to $81
Tickets online: Ticketmaster
Tickets by phone: Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100, or outside the New York metro area (800) 755-4000
Tickets in person: Box office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM (Box Office entrances located at 213 West 42nd Street and at 214 West 43rd Street)