Saturday, August 13, 2011

'Jesus Christ Superstar' showcases great singing

Arts in Motion Theater Company brings Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Jesus Christ Superstar” to the Loynd Auditorium stage in North Conway, N.H. for the next two weeks with shows Thursday through Sunday. Though based on a book you may have heard of, this is not your typical passion play.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” first appeared on Broadway in 1971 following the release of an album. The show is a rock opera loosely based on the gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus' life with lyrics by Tim Rice that feature contemporary slang, attitudes and references. It isn't a black-and-white portrayal of these events and plays in the grays by showing Jesus' insecurities, doubts and flaws and his betrayer, Judas, as a tragic, even sympathetic figure.
Arts in Motion's production, working from a concept by Gregory Charette under the direction of Mary Bastoni-Rebmann and music direction of Tracy Gardner, is a showcase for several good singers and some solid acting.
Rafe Matregrano returns to the role of Jesus Christ having previously performed it in M&D Productions' “Godspell.” He has a strong voice that is sometimes stretched to its limits, but when he stays with his range he has rather sweet voice.
Most importantly, Matregrano gets the emotions right. He does not hold back in this performance. His anger and hurt towards Judas is clearly visible on songs like “Strangething Mystifying” and “The Last Supper.” Matregrano is strongest on the more contemplative songs particularly on “Gesthsemane,” a song in which Jesus struggles with whether he is able to willingly let himself die.
Holly Reville is fantastic as Mary Magdalene. She has a pure, clear and beautiful voice that is perfectly highlighted on “Everything's Alright.” She brings a lot of warmth and compassion to the role. Her performance of “I Don't Know How to Love Him” is one of the show's best moment.
Paul Allen is sharing the role of Pilate with Matt Stoker. I saw Allen's take on the role, so I can only comment on that. Allen has a powerful and commanding voice. He doesn't make an appearance until late in first act on “Pilate's Dream” and while he may not be the most beloved character, you're eager for his return.
Like Matregrano, Allen gives a complete performance. He doesn't simply sing the songs, but puts genuine feeling into them. “On Trial By Pilate,” he makes his frustration toward Jesus clear as well as his unwillingness to condemn him and the pressure put on him from the masses calling for Jesus' death.
Jahn Deschambeault as Judas has a strong voice, but, because of technical difficulties with the microphones, hearing her voice was often difficult. Her performance is good and she is able to hint at Judas' emotional turmoil, but doesn't quite fully bring it across.
This microphone issue also marred Ged Owen's performance as Caiaphas, the high priest who sees Jesus as a threat to the nation. It is a shame as Owen gets to show off his capable use of the lower ranges of his voice. Unfortunately, sometimes you can't hear any of it. Hopefully, these audio issues were just opening night hiccups that will be sorted out as the show progresses.
Abby Miller has one solo as Simon Zealotes and her powerhouse voice is one that leaves a lasting impression.
Stacy Sand as King Herod has fun on “Herod Song.” The song is Herod's mocking plea to Jesus to perform some miracles and prove he is the son of God. Sand is flanked by a line of Rockette-style dancers and the number is the show's highlight in terms of dancing.
Elsewhere it is the dancing that is the show's weakest element. The stage often just feels cluttered and chaotic and it seems as if the performers are, at times, wandering around aimlessly. The show also feels somewhat disjointed with scenes working well together as stand-alone pieces, but not really ever connecting.
The use of video was largely superfluous, but there are some directing choice that work extremely well as when Jesus' shadow falls on to the crucifix that is the center piece of the stage during the interspective “Gesthsemane.”
Ultimately, it is the singing that make this worth checking out. Tickets are $15 and $12 for students and seniors. For more information or tickets,

No comments: