Theater

Review: A flawless 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at Paramount

Well, the Paramount Theater has done it again – another superb, no, magnificent musical production, this time, the iconic rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Making his Paramount debut, Ron Kellum directs and choreographs a cast of 26 in an energized, witty, flawless version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice classic (who by the way were both in their 20’s when they composed the 1970 rock opera concept album that routinely was rejected by theater producers). Loosely based on Gospel accounts, all the hallmarks of a grand opera are present – love, fear, devotion, betrayal, internal struggle and politics. But is it the story of Jesus Christ, or the story of a man made into a superstar? Did Webber use Jesus, one of the most famous icons in history, to get a point across?

As for the Paramount cast, I don’t think I possess enough superlatives in my vocabulary to comment. Dual Jeff Award nominee Evan Tyrone Martin is a tall, elegant, graceful Jesus with a beautifully strong vocal range. Martin recently was moved from the role of Peter to the title role of Jesus when Broadway star Destan Owens, originally announced for the role, departed due to a family emergency. Martin’s Garden of Gethsemane (“tried for three years, seems like 30”) particularly showcases the strength of his despair and doubt.

Judas, depicted always as an evil and tragic figure, in this production is devoted to Jesus, a man he admired, but is unhappy with the direction Jesus is going and what his popularity is doing. Judas stunningly is portrayed by Mykal Kilgore. His vocal range is unbelievably exquisite; he is impassioned and articulate and brings the house down several times. We understand Judas’ turmoil.

The always-by-Jesus’-side Mary Magdalene still has her two great signature songs beautifully rendered by the soulful Felicia Boswell, but Magdalene remains a character reduced to the in-the-shadows pacifying follower.

Lorenzo Rush Jr. is an extremely majestic Caiaphas, whose growl and deep resonance assert his authority in dealing with Jesus’ threat to his integrity and power; Avionce Hoyles does double duty as the weasley sidekick Annas and as the comic relief of the diminutive Mohawked King Herod (done quite flamboyantly Las Vegas style). Rufus Bonds Jr.’s Pontius Pilate is crisp, precise and articulate; he tries desperately to save Jesus. There’s a moving scene that contradicts the man we’re religiously taught is evil. Bonds plays Pilate to perfection.

And that ensemble! Every priest, soldier, soul girl, apostle, disciple and town person is a joyful, talented singer and dancer.

If you are buoyed by the cast, let me also express my gratitude for some technical aspects that help achieve that buoyancy visually. Scenic designer Kevin Depinet provides stoic Roman columns, moveable stairways and stunning projections from purple and gold mountains, the moon, the stars – everything necessary to depict the last seven days of Jesus’ life. Even the feared crucifixion is handled simply, touchingly and tastefully. Greg Hofmann illuminates and gloriously highlights the set and ensemble, while Theresa Ham’s gauzy, emphatic semi-modern costumes in hues of gold, greens and mauve fit the ensemble well; blacks, reds and whites are reserved for the political and holy. Veteran Tom Vendafreddo teams with Kory Danielson for music direction and the conduction of a truly exquisite live 15-piece orchestra. And remember, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a rock opera so there is no spoken dialogue; the show entirely is sung through, and the ensemble does it all with passion and edge via rock, soul and Gospel styles.

You must not go to “Jesus Christ Superstar” expecting the film. You’ll quickly be jolted by the shifts of allusions to modern life and the changes in stereotypic characters. And if you are expecting the music of the record album of your youth, you’ll be delightfully swayed by the new tempos, notes held longer and up and down the unimaginable scales and the stirring vibrancy of the phrases emphasized. Songs and performers constantly were cheered and applauded with good reason. (There was an 8-minute standing ovation at curtain call.) It’s easy to understand why “Jesus Christ Superstar” has morphed into a global stage phenomenon, still vibrant and triumphant more than 40 years later. And the Paramount has another sell-out on their books.

• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director who began her career onstage in 1985 at the Woodstock Opera House. Currently serving on the Raue Center for the Arts Board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.

“JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR”

WHEN: Through May 28

WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

COST & INFO: Rated PG. Includes two acts, with a running time of 1 hour, 50 minutes and a 15-minute intermission. Tickets: $44-59. Tickets and information: 630-896-6666 or www.paramountaurora.com.

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