Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 album, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1971 over-the-top Broadway staging, and even the more reverent 1973 film, all provoked major protests. But the work’s overwhelming popularity has kept it a theatrical staple for nearly five decades.
The show’s productions can vary widely, from rock concert to religious pageant, from wild exaggeration to stark solemnity. N.C. Theatre’s concept mixes elements from all of the above, not always successfully. But the astounding vocal talent on display and the director’s gripping staging of the second half ultimately make NCT’s version a must-see.
The show could be called “Judas,” as it’s seen through his eyes, challenging Jesus’ ambitions and warning him of their consequences. Aaron C. Finley’s soaring, beautifully controlled voice makes Judas’ every emotion plain and every word clear, especially in his heartrending death scene. Aleks Pevec’s down-to-earth, defiant Jesus equals Finley with full-throated intensity, their solos each seeming to say, “Can you top that?”
Brennyn Lark garners huge applause for her lovely interpretation of Mary Magdalene’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” as well as for her other solos. Kevin Earley’s sonorous baritone gives authority to his Pontius Pilate, along with a believably conflicted characterization. Herod’s big second act number is often a production’s highlight and Joshua Morgan makes it so here by performing it hilariously. He never overdoes the flamboyance while ensuring every clever lyric counts.
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Eric Woodall’s direction starts off stunningly, the stage filled with mannequins draped in period costumes donned by cast in present day clothing. But from there, the first act seems uninspired, along with Mark Kimelman’s bland choreography and music director Edward G. Robinson’s routine-sounding (and often too-loud) orchestra.
However, the second act is a completely different story. Granted, it has meatier vocal and dramatic material, which apparently galvanizes everyone involved, from creative team to performers. The act expertly builds towards a weighty, emotional climax that completely wipes away any previous complaints.
Chris Benier’s impressive set design of Roman columns atop sweeping stairways is enhanced by Samuel Rushen’s varied and often surprising lighting. LeGrande Smith’s costumes are particularly vivid in Herod’s song and Judas’ Vegas-style “Superstar.”
If this is a favorite show, don’t hesitate to get tickets, just know to anticipate the payoff in the second act.
What: “Jesus Christ Superstar”
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. April 12-16; 2 p.m. Apr. 15-16
Info: 919-831-6941 or nctheatre.com