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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Human and Divine

Theater Review

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  Jesus Christ Superstar was a first at many levels when it debuted on stage in 1971. It began as a double album in 1970 with staging to follow a year later and coined the term “rock opera”; it brought worldwide attention to its young composers Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) and it depicted the son of God as a human being full of doubts and uncertainty about His predestined fate.

  The Shorewood Players are finishing up their 78th season with a production of the opera that, despite some problematic choices, points out the strengths of the music and lyrics built around the last seven days in Christ’s mortal life.

  Jesus Christ Superstar was revolutionary—and controversial—in its day for its contemporary approach to Christ, its use of slang and its references to modern-day sensibilities. In particular was the focus on Judas, whose perspective guides us throughout this one hour, 45-minute production (including intermission) which is completely sung.Judas becomes increasingly concerned about Christ’s claims as the Messiah as well as His apparent lack of a divine plan.

  This Judas, played by Shane Morgan, has all the right moves, literally. Morgan plays Judas as a “playa” and fills the stage with exuberant energy and tricked out moves. However, the complex score with its shifting rhythms resulted in Morgan straining to reach notes as it did at times for other actors.

  Director Terry Grazer has also created a first of sorts; he’s added children to the cast, which added a nice touch, given Christ’s focus on children.However, with 70 actors in this show, the traditional proscenium stage felt crowded at times, making it challenging to focus on the main and supporting characters, while others on stage simply stood and watched the ongoing action.

  Kathryn Williams offered a lovely, sensitive portrayal of Mary Magdalene, her clear soprano evoking emotion and tenderness on “Everything’s Alright” and in particular “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

  But it is Adam Werlein’s depiction of Jesus that really stands out in this Jesus Christ Superstar.Werlein captures the earthly persona of Christ, exposing the fears and doubts of what awaits Him. Werlein sang and acted the role well throughout the challenging score, especially on the climactic Act I closer, “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).”He and Williams worked well together, her the repentant sinner, him depicting a Jesus Christ that is just as human and mortal as the rest of us.

  Jesus Christ Superstar runs through June 29 at The Shorewood High School Auditorium located at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Capitol Drive, Shorewood.

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