Regional Reviews: Phoenix
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the sung-through show follows the Gospels' accounts of the last week in Jesus' life in a swift-moving plot that illustrates many events including Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene's devotion to him, the last supper, his betrayal by Judas, his trial by Pontius Pilate, and the crucifixion. While it portrays these well-known plot points in Jesus' life it also touches upon the personal conflicts and struggles that Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene all encountered.
Spotlight's production is beautifully directed by Mark 4man and Lynzee 4man, who have cast the show with two dozen youth actors who do an effective job in navigating their way through Lloyd Webber's wide ranging, impressive and inspired rock music and Rice's succinct, simple and touching lyrics. The band features a talented quartet, under Mark 4Man's expert musical direction, who deliver some impressive sounds, along with a few members of the cast who play instruments at various times throughout the show. Lynzee's choreography is varied, well danced and excellent.
Sam Primack's Jesus is heartfelt, introspective, conflicted and sad yet also infused with elements of charm, humility and passion. His forceful performance of "Gethsemane" hits all the right notes and is full of anguish as Jesus questions both his past and his future. Joey Grado's Judas is appropriately lost, angered and dissatisfied. Grado's brooding persona and high rock squeals create a tragic and convincing character that, like Jesus, is also conflicted. The scene in which Judas betrays Jesus has such clarity and understanding by Grado as to what the result of that decision will ultimately be that I was practically moved to tears. Jasmine Bassham makes for a beautiful and loving Mary. Her "I Don't Know How to Love Him" is well sung, with a realistic introspection, and features a lovely guitar solo by Tiana Marks (who also plays the flute in the ensemble).
In supporting parts, Jeremy Bassham makes for a quite imposing and commanding Pilate, yet he also effectively demonstrates how, beneath Pilate's assured, aloof exterior we see a man who doesn't quite know what to do with this so-called king. As in Grado's performance during Judas's betrayal, the emotion Bassham displays in the trial scene when Jesus is being whipped is disturbingly stunning in how it portrays Pilate's clarity and understanding as to his contribution in Jesus' life. Steven Enriquez's Herod brings an upbeat jolt of humor in his one well-sung song, while Isaiah Salazar's deep, rich voice makes for a truly awesome Caiaphas, and Noah Lanouette is an impressive Annas. Also, Vincent Pugliese and Anson Romney provide nice cameos as Simon and Peter. My only small quibble is that as good as the cast is and as strong as their singing voices are, there were some high, loud, sustained notes in a few of the songs that were a tad screechy at the performance I attended.
The intimacy of the small Spotlight space allows a deep connection between cast and audience and provides a refined clarity of the many emotional moments in the show. The combination of Bobby Sample's effective, though static, two-level set and Josh Hontz's impressive lighting creates a dark and ominous environment for the action to unfold. Two movable staircases are effectively used for the staging of a few scenes, especially for the last supper. Sample's media design incorporates video imagery projected on the upper back wall which helps flesh out a few moments in the show. However, due to the fast-moving plot and lack of any real narration or dialogue in the script, I wish he had added more projections in a few scenes to give a stronger sense as to their location. Naomi and Andi Jordan's costumes and Trey DeGroodt's hair and make-up designs provide a nice blend of the period of the piece, with modern touches to give a timeliness and modern rock feel to the production. Hontz's sound design delivers a nice balance between cast and band.
I've always loved the score to this musical and, while the show is a bit of a downer and a few of the locations of the scenes slightly confusing, Spotlight's production of Jesus Christ Superstar features a talented cast and an exceptional band and results in an emotionally rich and moving production of this classic rock musical.
Spotlight Youth Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar, through June 10th, 2018, at 10620 N 43rd Avenue in Glendale AZ. Tickets and information can be found at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or by calling 602-843-8318.
Directors: Mark & Lynzee 4Man