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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

What's the Buzz at Village Theatre?
Jesus Christ Superstar Rises Again!

Also see David's review of Mary Poppins

Jesus Christ Superstar
Michael K. Lee and Company
Though Brian Yorkey, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning writer of Next To Normal, has many irons in the fire, home is where his heart is, and the Issaquah native returned to his hometown Village Theatre (where he is a past associate artistic director) to helm a rousing and original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's enduringly popular rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Swift-moving and loaded with strong voices and performers, the show isn't afraid to stretch the boundaries of the family-oriented Village Theatre audiences. Is it the perfect JCS? No but next to perfect, I'd venture to say.

Yorkey resets his Jesus Christ Superstar in a modern, quarter to doomsday Jerusalem, visualized by a stunningly bleak and bombed out scenic design by Matthew Smucker. The soldiers are essentially modern-day equivalents of Nazi storm troopers; the disciples are jeans, sandals, and bandana types; and Caiaphas and his minions are dressed in big-business chic. Costumer Melanie Burgess deserves a big hosanna for her efforts, as does Alex Berry for his ravishing lighting design.

Jesus and Judas are portrayed by Michael K. Lee and Aaron C. Finley, though which actor plays which role varies nightly. Opening night Lee was a vocally stunning, charismatic Jesus, and Finley a deeply troubled Judas, with an equally impressive set of pipes. Certainly many an audience member will want to take in the show a second time to contrast the performances of these very committed, tireless performers. Jennifer Paz sings the role of Mary Magdalene with lyric beauty, though Mary as written has always seemed a rather thankless and underdeveloped character for such a key player in the story.

A wealth of strong performers take on the key supporting roles. Greg Stone (Jesus in the Village's 1990s staging of the show) gives a magnetic, confident and multilayered account of Pontius Pilate and wows with "Pilate's Dream." Eric Polani Jensen is a deliciously dark and sinister Caiaphas, and Timothy Glynn sings the role of Annas outrageously well. James Scheider, almost unrecognizable from his last Village Theatre turn in 42nd Street, is right on target with his amiable, easygoing Simon, and Michael Nicholas is convincingly troubled as Peter, and a worthy vocal partner with Paz on "Could We Start Again, Please?" With but one scene and song to steal the show, cutting-edge Seattle favorite Brandon Whitehead is a hilariously perverse King Herod, leading "King Herod's Song" with, shall we say, gay abandon? Whether the number is Yorkey's brainchild or came out of a shared fever dream with choreographer Daniel Cruz, it is the rouser of the production, and the one which unashamedly goes for broke with decadent nuances previously absent from a Village main-stage production. The equally go-for-broke ensemble singers and dancers are a joy to watch, even when choreographer Cruz's hip-hop heavy dances grow repetitive. The title song, though well sung by Finley at the opening, was a real misfire of aiming to be a riff on tacky Vegas numbers, but came across as a genuinely tacky and gaudy mish-mash of a number that was below the standard of the rest of the show. Happily, it's the only number in the show that truly fell flat.

Musical director and arranger Tim Symons has done well by the score, both in his work with the vocalists and leading a most accomplished orchestra. Hearing Jesus Christ Superstar again reminded me of how it was the milestone musical score of seventies era youths like myself. Yorkey and company are to be applauded for making it exciting all over again for its fans and those just discovering it.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs through July 3 at the Village Theatre's Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front Street, Issaquah, Wa and then runs July 8-31 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett, Washington. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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