Theater Review: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ energetic, spiritual at NCC
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is an interesting and challenging choice for Northampton Community College Summer Theatre’s 2019 season-closing production, through Aug, 4, Lipkin Theater.
The July 24 opening night performance was seen for this review.
“Superstar” is a rock opera that began as a 1970 concept album by Andrew Lloyd Weber and his frequent collaborator, lyricist Tim Rice.
As a loose interpretation of Jesus’ relationships, feelings and experiences in the last week of his life, the album was banned by the BBC as sacrilegious. Some religious groups were offended that Jesus was portrayed not as the Son of God, but as a mere mortal. Despite that and other criticisms, the sung-through musical debuted on Broadway in 1971 and played for 711 performances.
A half-century later, Northampton Community College Summer Theatre Producing Artistic Director Bill Mutimer, who directs the rock opera, not only captures the vibrancy of Weber’s musical score, and maintains the relevance and humanity of the Jesus story, but creates a sense of reverence that elevates the dramatization to a spiritual level.
Thanks to the sensitive performances of James Morogiello (Jesus), Gabriel Trimbur (Judas) and Julia Donahue (Mary Magdalene), one is able to glimpse into the hearts and minds of Jesus and two of the people closest to him.
Morogiello is marvelous at striking just the right balance between ambivalence and resignation as Jesus. He has a striking singing voice, with an impressive vocal range. In his solo, “Poor Jerusalem,” his beautifully-controlled falsetto bespeaks Jesus’ anguish and sorrow.
Judas is a pivotal character, and Trimbur plays him superbly as a conflicted soul who opposes Jesus as God, but is appalled at his own role in what happens to Jesus after his arrest. There have been criticisms that Judas was portrayed as too sympathetic a character, but through Trimbur’s performance and Mutimer’s direction, it is possible to see both sides of the coin.
Donahue as the reformed prostitute sings a touching rendition of the familiar vocal lament, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Other notable cast members are Brady Love (Pilate), Jason William Steffen (Caiaphus) and Sam Kashefska (Herod).
Steffen plays the high priest to the hilt as he struts around in a distinctive black costume trimmed with chains.
Kashefska plays Herod for laughs. In a lounge show routine wearing a dinner jacket, carrying a cane and dancing with a chorus of young beauties, he sings, “Come on, King of the Jews.”
Also, in the fine cast are Daniel L. Melo (Annas), the 12 apostles, Mary, the Maid by the Fire, 13 “apostlettes” and 17 ensemble players. There is enough energy on and off stage to go off the power grid.
Brett Oliveira has outdone himself with the show’s lighting design, which beyond setting the right tone and adding to the drama, provides clever lighting applications, as in the “39 Lashes” scene.
In keeping with the concept of the musical as a deliberate anachronism, costumer Brenda McGuire has dressed Jesus and the rest of the cast in modern clothes. She created a plethora of costumes, some of which are absolutely stunning.
Tickets: Lipkin Theatre Box Office, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township; ncctix.org; 484-484-3412