In 2000, family friends took me to see the revival of Jesus Christ Superstar for my birthday. Tony Vincent and Maya Days were in it (as Judas and Mary, respectively), and being a Renthead at the time, I had to see it. Vincent and Days were the only redeeming qualities of that production. Though JCS has a fantastic score, the show, or at least that staging of it, left a ton to be desired.  It could’ve been my lack of enthusiasm for Christianity, the bible, or Jesus in general that left me cold too (it should be noted that I still share that lack of enthusiasm).

When I’d heard that the production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was great and transferring, I shook my head and silently wondered to myself, Why, oh, why are bringing this back? Hasn’t Broadway suffered enough recently? But thankfully, I can eat my hat, because I saw this most recent revival tonight and I really enjoyed it.

This production is incredibly different from the last revival which was basically glam rock. This production, though still heavy in electric guitar, the voices are much less hard and more pure musical theatre. The set is simple, and looks like the remnants of the set from Taboo plus a giant shining cross and two moveable staircases, but it works. There are a fair amount of projections (that set the day, time, place, etc) but they all work and add to the production in a positive way. The choreography is original and fitting (except for the erratic and distracting movement in What’s the Buzz – that should be fixed ASAP). The costumes are all appropriate to the time during which the show is set – unlike Vincent’s black leather jacket and jeans in the 2000 revival (for example).  The whipping scene is much LESS bloody than in 2000 and the song Superstar is staged incredibly differently – but it’s really, really fun to watch.  

But like I originally stated, every single voice on the stage of the Neil Simon Theatre is incredibly strong and gorgeous. Josh Young (Judas) sings (and looks like) Josh Groban but with a slight edge, and he is absolutely fantastic. He doesn’t rip a high note before the final verse of Superstar but I got over that (forward to 2:29 on this video to see what I mean – oh, hell, just watch the whole thing – it was the only reason to see the last revival). Paul Nolan (as jesus) may have had an even stronger voice the Glenn Carter did in 2000 and he looked a bit younger, which I thought added to the idea that Jesus was naive, because he was young.  Chilina Kennedy (Mary) had a beautiful voice and I thought she acted the role quite well.  

Other stand-outs in the cast include Tom Hewitt as Pontius Pilate – he doesn’t do much in the first act but he has tons of attitude and wears a crushed purple velvet suit in the second act which more than makes up for his lack of presence in the first act. Bruce Dow as King Herod is a totally different type of flamboyancy from his 2000 counterpart Paul Kandel but it works just as well, if not better. I also really enjoyed Mike Nadajewski as Peter.

What else can I say? Jesus Christ Superstar has an amazing score (probably my favorite of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s). The first act flies by in 55 minutes, and the second act is a tad shorter (although it feels a bit longer) and you’re out by 10pm. This newest revival is definitely worth seeing, even if you didn’t particularly enjoy the last revival (ahem). They have (student) rush tickets for $27 available the day-of, so you really have no excuse not to see it.

(photo credit: joan marcus)

When it was announced in August 2009 that Tony Vincent would play St. Jimmy in the Berkeley Rep run of American Idiot, I knew he’d be perfect.  The first time I saw him take the stage in Berkeley he was exactly as I’d imagined the character and he was perfect.  It was like his portrayal of Judas (in Jesus Christ Superstar) except more intense and edgier.  In the Broadway transfer, I only cared whether or not he was also being transfered, and he was.  I was determined to see him one last time in American Idiot before he left, and although it didn’t need to be at his last show, it was and I’m glad I was there.

The house was packed and the show was completely sold out (thank you, tourist season), as was the lottery beforehand, but I scored a ticket a few minutes before the show started (J101).  I hadn’t seen [American Idiot] since the Actors Fund performance in October and it was also my first time seeing Jeanna de Waal as Heather.  The casts’ pre-show “fuck time!”-ritual was clearly audible to the house which not only got the cast energized, but also the audience (at least those who knew what they were doing).  

The show was exceptionally energetic last night, and it was held for a minute here or there to allow for the copious amount of applause at both the beginning and end of “St. Jimmy.”  I believe they were having trouble with the projections because during “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” there was a red box projected with the ‘city,’ and there was no falling paper during “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”    de Waal was enjoyable and clearly needs a bit more time to ease into the role and maybe get a bit more in touch with her character.  Though she has a great voice, her singing sounded stunted (paused? slow?) against the beat of the music.  Michael Esper lost a few of his high notes during “Nobody Likes You” for the first time (that I’ve seen) since previews.  

But Tony Vincent was the star last night.  He gave his all vocally, and mentally.  He wailed his way through “Know Your Enemy,” the way he did in Berkeley before he (or anyone else in the cast) was concerned with vocal-upkeep.  He made no speech at the end, though the cast was sure trying to get him to deliver one during their guitar riffing (pictured above) after curtain call.  He looked grateful for all of the praise.

Thank you, Jimmy.