By GEORGETTE SPELVIN
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I can’t remember how long it has been since my last confession.
I fully admit to having detested “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the play/film, for decades. Perhaps it was because I was so sick of the music. If you’re a person of a certain age, you had to have the JCS record and can sing along with it. I’ve seen versions that are near-interactive, sort of a holy Rocky Horror. That’s not to say the music is bad. It’s not. In fact, it’s really quite good, with all those different styles and genres, and it made for a pretty cogent rock opera in its time.
No, the part that annoyed this Aquinas-loving taker of classes in matters exegetical was its treatment of its subject, and not because you’re supposed to treat the Son of God/Son of Man with traditional deference. What some of us always found less than super about Superstar is that doesn’t really show why people were so willing to put their hands in the hand of the man from Galilee. Oops, wrong song. Sorry.
Anyway, yes, he is troubled. Yes, he is beset. Yes, he is criticized for hanging around with a less-than-savory woman, according to the stories (as opposed to the gospels). Yes, he was the ultimate innocent. And yes, he has great moral strength.
But no, the book of this musical does not really develop for its audience any intellectual brilliance or lovable nature on the part of most charismatic human being of them all, which kind of makes you wonder why anyone followed him to begin with. Except for his moments of doubt, the guy whose first miracle, according to his young friend John, was to make wine for partiers because his mother asked him to, comes off looking like the same old stained-glass icon. It gets stale.
Now comes Titusville Playhouse’s version of JCS, and it is an eye-opener: Tautly directed by Steven J. Heron, with a minimalist, cruciform set, smart acting and sublime voices, it has made “Superstar” entertaining again.
So the apostles were not a gaggle of Aquarian hippies skipping over the dunes of the Levant. Bravo! And Mary Magdalene was neither some frantic, grasping woman, nor a far-too-Zen hippie chick. Thank you! And someone who looks blatantly, sleazily ridiculous as Herod does in Titusville can engender as much scorn as any mustache-twirling smartass. Yes!
If you care about all of that, terrific. You’ll love it. If you don’t, you still love it because of the quality of the voices involved and the acting that goes with them. Bass/baritone Michael Colavolpe oozes flawless malevolence as the politically-minded high priest, Caiaphas. Baritone-tenor Alex Mansoori is marvelously frustrated as the Roman prefect Pilate. Noa Carmel gives a beautifully restrained and thoughtful performance as Mary Magdalene, in soaring mezzo tones.
Corey Brasher clearly understands the marriage of screaming rocker to musical theater actor-vocalist that the role of Jesus requires, and he does it with clear-voiced elan.
Broadway actor James Berkley nearly steals the show with his hot pants-clad, roller skating Herod, whose song (“Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.”) lends evil levity to the play to begin with. Berkley absolutely nails it, and his return skate to the stage resulted in a deserved standing ovation the night we saw it.
The star, though, is Joe Tokarz as Judas Iscariot, whose role gives him more humanness than Jesus’ to begin with, and more again with him in it. His acting is spot-on. His singing is powerful, perfect, and after he delivered the title song, you could hear “Wow!” muttered throughout the balcony; another standing O.Is “Jesus Christ Superstar” faultless? Well, I could have done without the dead Jesus ascending to heaven, fresh off the cross, when a single, stark spotlight would have done the job, one suspects. You know: “I am the light of the world” (more John) and all that? And the standard Jesus Christ Look (long hair parted in the middle; beard) . . . ugh.
But having said that, the Emma Parrish Theatre has a fine, fine show on its stage and it deserves full houses of appreciative people every performance.
I misjudged “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It can still be entertaining and thought-provoking.
I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life. For my penance, I’ll sit through three You Tubers of “Godspell.”