Review: Touring 'Jesus Christ Superstar' Offers Sizzle, Not Substance

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 30, 2019

Aaron LaVigne and Tommy Sherlock in >"Jesus Christ Superstar: 50th Anniversary Tour".
Aaron LaVigne and Tommy Sherlock in >"Jesus Christ Superstar: 50th Anniversary Tour".   (Source:Matthew Murphy)

In a much-truncated touring version, the popular Regent Park rock concert of the now-classic musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" arrives in Los Angeles with a blast of energy and sound.

Feeling like a greatest hits collection of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, this 50th Anniversary version of "Superstar" has a lot of flash and (literal) sparkle, but sometimes lacks the tenderness and emotion that the story of Jesus' last days needs.

The set is made of rafters that hold the live band on upper levels, a fallen cross in the center of the stage, and trees in the background that create the effect of being outdoors. The cast is dressed in comfy lounge clothes, which makes Jesus and his crew look like they fell into the GAP's sleepwear collection. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (I would totally wear all of it). By changing the look of the production, the appeal skews toward the millennial generation with its casual vibe and rock concert feel. Unfortunately, it can also detract a bit as our Jesus (played uber-mellow by Aaron LaVigne) comes across like a moody hipster.

The effort to create a show of excess removes the emotional impact of the piece never allowing the characters to bond. The friendship and betrayal of Jesus and Judas (thrillingly portrayed by James Delisco Beeks) never quite gels and Mary (Jenna Ruball) never finds her connection to the King of Kings.

A lot of this has to do with the rushed, frenetic direction by Timothy Sheader, which seems to have taken a nod from Vegas and offers a hard and swift version of the show. When Mary comes out to sing her yearning ballad "I Don't Know How to Love Him" she has barely spent time with Jesus, which doesn't allow the audience to feel her love of him. There are never any moments of reflection or grace. It's just a lot of flash and noise.

The company moves through Drew Mconie's choreography to exhaustion while dance captain Rebecca Kritzer steals every number with her spot on technique and endless dynamism. (You literally can't take your eyes off of her.) At the same time, the repetitive dance moves remind one a little of an opening number from an installment of "So You Think You Can Dance."

All of this said, there is something appealing about the show. The set design and lighting is beautiful and I enjoyed the rock concert take on it: if only they extended the 90-minute running time to allow for some emotional connection.

While Beeks is clearly the standout of the show, Tommy Sherlock as Pilate, Tyce Green as Annas, and Paul Louis Lessard as a sort of drag King Herod enliven the show with powerful voices and performances.

For fans of the music, there's a lot to enjoy. While "Gesthemene" doesn't have the power it should and Jesus doesn't embody the warmth his character so desperately needs to emit, this is the mass-market paperback version of Lloyd-Weber's masterpiece which makes it go down easy, but might not have any lasting effect.

"Jesus Christ Superstar: 50th Anniversary Tour" runs through Nov. 3rd at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028. For more information and for tickets please visit https://www.hollywoodpantages.com

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.