Friday, October 19, 2012

A few notes from the Boston Conservatory production of Jesus Christ Superstar

Stephen Markarian as Pontius Pilate showed a lovely singing voice, great dynamics, and real sympathy for Jesus. It’s a challenging role from which to connect to the audience, because Pilate is at a remove from most of the storyline. He shows up for an Act 1 solo song out of the blue, and vanishes again before being more integrated into Act 2. This production reinforced that separation both from the audience and the primary stage action by putting Pilate on a constructed balcony to one side. His position as the Roman political authority puts him at odds with the other characters, and his role as the one who sentences Jesus puts him at odds with the audience. Yet Markarian manages to keep Pilate likeable, and convincingly convey in the space of a few minutes both his reluctance to sentence Jesus and his frustrated shift to following the demands of the crowd.

Riley Brack as Caiaphas has the bass voice needed for the part, and was a very tall, very entertaining, and very unserious Caiaphas. He always seemed at least half-amused, and I’d love to see him in a comic role.

Marc Koeck as Jesus was too restless in his group work, but was very impressive in his solos. I’d love to see him perform in something with more thorough direction.

Jordan Fantauzzo as Judas was phenomenal. Seriously, he made the music his own, he made the role his own, and he did not hit a single wrong note all evening in pitch or tone. I was blown away by his performance in a way that hasn’t happened in a musical in quite a long time. (Not since one of the female leads in Rent on Broadway.)

I wanted to like the updating of the setting to the modern Middle East, and some conceits worked. Judas and Jesus on cell phones to each other at the beginning, pizza and beer in Gethsemene, that worked. The riot police would have been ok if their costumes hadn’t been so cheap. But it was hard not to bust out laughing at the zombie scene (heal yourselves = eat your own brains?), heaven as Vegas was bizarre, and I had not been expecting to see the three witches from Rupert Goold’s Macbeth show up.

With a score that I know so well I was very prepared to be disappointed, but it turned out to be a wonderfully entertaining evening. The live orchestra was excellent, the set was used well, and the very large cast worked well together. And most importantly, they did real justice to a fantastic score.

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