When Jesus Christ Superstar first opened in 1971 on Broadway it met with much criticism for its unconventional portrayal of Christ and his last weeks here on earth. Mary Ellen Butler director for this show and Artistic Director of the Palace theatre, has created a very unique version of this show. One of the more interesting and more modern aspect that she has brought to this production is she has cast a couple of females as the 12 disciples. I think this is one of the best parts of this show and produces a modern take on this now 40 year old musical.
There is a lot to praise about this production, I think it is one of the better productions I have seen out of the Palace, the quality of the Scenic Design designed by Callie and Sam Kokajko is well thought and effective. The Costumes are great and a nice mix of new and old, Tamar Madrigal the resident costume and props designer has outdone herself on this show. Mary Ellen Butler the shows director as I stated before has done some great work in this show, adding in a lot of symbolism and thoughtful moments as the company approaches parts of this script that are very personal to a lot of people. Butler does a great job of respecting religious traditions and yet still maintaining a modern and human look at these personalities. Some of my favorite moments in the show feature the outstanding performance by Ann Richards as Mary Magdalene who tends to Jesus with such care and love. Her performance of “How Do I Love Him” is superb. Additionally Evelyn LaLond’s performance as Simon the Zealot is out of this world good as she sings and dances with such high intensity. I would feel like I have not done my job as a critic if I didn’t mention Kirk Kelso’s performance as King Herod, as usual Kelso knocks the ball out of the park in his Cameo role. However my favorite moment out of all is when Ann Richards as Mary Magdalene screams and struggles to get to Jesus as he is being crucified, it is a heartbreaking and touching moment.
I do want to also say that I have begun to see a pattern in the Palace’s musical productions, it seems to me that the audio mixing and sound system is never balanced and it leads to many problems musically. The singers typically have sounds off key, out of tune, and either too loud or too soft. This is not the performers fault, they are doing the best they can to give us a good show. However, in this production I fear the sound engineering issue makes the actors literally scream their music instead of sing it. It is either that or the problem is the casting is not well thought out. As Cliff Butler as Judas seems to be straining his voice and screaming every lyric in this show. Which is a shame as I have heard him sing well in lots of different shows. The same goes with Ann Richards as Mary Magdalene, and Evelyn LaLond as Simon, I have heard both ladies sing beautifully and artfully in other productions however in the performance of Superstar I saw they both seemed to struggle through their music as if they could not hear the band and themselves well, or the music wasn’t suited to their voices.
All in all this is a show that is good, not great but good. I am Giving this show a three and a half stars, it would have been a four or higher had I not felt I was sitting through 2 hours of screaming over music that was not balanced.