Jesus Christ! (Superstar)

In a move that shows you’re never too old to play Jesus, Ted Neeley showed up in DC this week starring as Jesus in the touring version of Jesus Christ Superstar. I caught last night’s show–my first time seeing it on stage, since I love the film version so much. I didn’t outright love it, although Beau kind of did.

One of the best parts about the film is that it uses anachronism to comment on today/yesterday through the lens of the passion. Guns in the temple, hippies celebrating free love, etc, are all integral parts of the film. The stage version is much more Bible-y: traditional dress even as Jesus’ followers are chanting “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening!”

In the touring show, the stand out was Herod, whose role affords him the most latitude in performance. This show’s Herod sang a Calypso version of his solo, with four Carmen Miranda-like back up singers. My only reservation is that the actor played Herod as a kind of mincing bitchy queen–and the last thing the gays need right now is to be connected to the crucifixion of Jesus, if you ask me. But he was funny, and he incorporated the most anachronism into his brief moment on stage, combining a divaness with the kind of critcal rancor usually reserved for restaurant reviews and NPR film reviews.

The letdown was Judas. But how can anyone live up to Carl Anderson’s portrayal in the film? It’s amazing, impassionated, and truly demonstrates the conflict between loving Jesus and wanting to do “what’s right”–one of the most important commentaries the show makes about contemporary society. The stage Judas sounded frequently off-key, had difficulty conveying passion that wasn’t mechanical and premeditated. He did turn it out for his Vegas-style final number, though.

The other standout was Mary, who had a gorgeous voice, although her entire performance was pretty understated, kind of as it should be.

Ted Neeley’s getting a little too old to play Jesus. I think one of the interesting aspects of this show is that Jesus is a rock star, a young, handsome, charismatic rock star who collects groupies and takes them to Jerusalem. The film is 36 years old now, and Neeley’s performance then was excellent (if a little stiff). The stiffness is mostly gone now, replaced with a holy arrogance, and his voice is blissfully unchanged. But he looked a little waxy under the lights. I’d like to see a younger, hotter Jesus next time around.

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