Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The Renaissance City Theatre Inc., the producing entity of the Granite Theatre’s current show is “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera. The show chronicles the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as seen through the eyes of his disciple Judas Iscariot, who became disillusioned by the movement. At the opening of the show, Judas agonizes over his perception that Jesus’ followers have become fanatical and unrealistic, hailing him as a god and twisting his words into monstrous prophecies.
After all in Judas’ mind, Jesus is only a man, a man with certain inconsistences, as evidenced by his relationship with Mary Magdalene. As the crowds in the street grow more and more out of control, the rift between Jesus and Judas grows. After watching Jesus lose control in the temple, Judas is more convinced that Jesus is a man and nothing more. He determines Jesus is dangerous and goes to the priests and gives them all the information they need to capture Jesus. After leading the soldiers to Gethsemane and watching events unfold, Judas realizes that he has become an instrument of Jesus’ martyrdom. Furious that Jesus will be remembered as a “Superstar”, Judas hangs himself as his misguided betrayal leads to the crucifixion of Jesus. This show first opened on Broadway on October 12, 1971 and ran for 720 performances. Director/choreographer Lisa Clough and musical director Stephen DeCesare pick talented performers to fill these roles. And together they create a splendid musical which is heartfelt and moving and it wins a standing ovation as its reward.
Lisa keeps the action flowing from one scene to another with standout moments being the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. She sets the show in RI in 2017 and keeps it dark and mysterious. She also supplies the dance steps for “Simon’s” number, “Herod’s Song” and the show stopping “Jesus Christ Superstar” number. Lisa captures the emotions of the audience with this emotion packed show. Stephen DeCesare taught the cast the lovely melodies and intricate harmonies of these rock songs. The cast is lead by Sean Byrne as Jesus. He has a strong tenor voice which handles the rock spectrum of the role while using a falsetto for the mellower moments. His “Gethsemane” tugs on your heartstrings especially when he reaches the crescendo in it. Sean also does terrific work on “Hosanna” and “Poor Jerusalem.” And is also impressive especially in the Last Supper, the whipping scene and the death scene.
Mike Davis is excellent as Judas. He displays his rock tenor voice and range in “Heaven on Their Minds”, “Damned for All Time”, “Blood Money” and “Judas’ Death.” This latter is a troubling one concerning Judas’ death scene of suicide. Set in contemporary time, Judas carries bottle of wine with him and downs pills to kill himself. Mike also excels in “Superstar” number where he and the girls dance up a storm. He and Sean make marvelous adversaries. I last reviewed Mike as Frederick in “Young Frankenstein”, talk about playing polar opposite roles! Patti Lou Davis, Mike’s wife is splendid as Mary Magdalene. She has a strong soprano voice which is heard in “Everything’s Alright” where she tries to soothe Jesus after a trying day, the powerful and poignant ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” where she admits her hidden feelings for him and “Could We Start Again, Please”, a rousing emotionally draining ballad with Peter. I last reviewed Patti Lou as Fantine in “Les Miserables” where Mike played Marius.
Marc Bernier who has topnotch voice plays Peter. He and Patti rock their duet together. Marc also handles “Peter’s Denial” wonderfully, too. The villainous high priests are played by bass singer, Mark Sullivan as Caiaphas and John Lamar as Annas. They have strong voices and menacing presences as does Jane Mandes as another priest. Her strong voice is heard during the show and gives her role the right attitude and facial expressions, too. Simon is well played by Mick Perry and he displays his strong singing voice in “Simon Zealotes” number with the chorus. Nick does a topnotch dance with them and dances dynamically during the whole show. Pilate is wonderfully played by Chris Maxwell. He has a great voice and displays the mellow side in “Pilate’s Dream” as well as his rock side in “Pilate and Christ” and “Trial by Pilate”. A comic turn in the show is given by Alex Moretti as Herod. He arrives on a motorcycle off stage enters in a gang jacket and sings “Herod’s Song” with the fabulous dancing girls played by Sandy Simas Gaccione, Christie Curtis and Lisa Clough. This number is a definite show stopper. I have many pleasant memories of this show, having played Herod for Warwick Players back in 1988. The apostles and chorus deliver the finishing touches needed to pull off this dramatic and powerful presentation. So for a modern day dress version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” be sure to catch it in Westerly before time runs out. You will be glad you did.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (20 October to 19 November)
Renaissance City Theatre Inc., Granite Theatre, 1 Granite St., Westerly, RI
1(401)596-2341 or www.granitetheatre.com