Saturday, April 08, 2006

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Yesterday, I participated in one of my favorite Lenten traditions: I went to see The Salt City Center for the Performing Arts' production of Jesus Christ Superstar, my favorite musical. I have been going to see this particular production every year since I was twelve years old. A tradition now for more than half of my life!

The first time I saw it, on a trip with my church UMYF, I was already familiar with the music, but what clinched it for me as a favorite was my instant crush on the actor, Henry Wilson, who played Judas Iscariot. I went back to see the show again that season, and then every year after that. Henry only played Judas for the first three years, and I have seen him again in 'cameos' on anniversary years of the theatre's production, but my love of the show and the music survived my crush! I've since been intrigued especially by Judas Iscariot, and eventually wrote my senior religion paper in college on Judas in literature.

Tonight was Salt City's 29th Annual Production of Superstar. (Syracuse Post Standard review here.) Last year, the theatre had their building, an old synagogue, condemned, so they've been performing their shows here, there, and everywhere. Superstar was at Most Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church for the second year in a row. I know the show so well, and so little changes in the production, that I often feel I could march up on stage and join the production. This year, I felt a little breath of fresh air might be in order. The chorus seemed only mildly interested in the fact that they were onstage. I felt like they just happened to be on stage, but without any real interest showing in what was happening around them. During big chorus numbers, they could hardly be heard. It seemed like they just were not singing!

Fortunately, most impressive were Jesus (Casey J. Ryan) and Judas (performed alternately by Terry LaCasse and Paul Valentino, Jr. - I saw Terry LaCasse.) Terry LaCasse as Judas did a great job, especially with his numbers in the first act. His death scene was a little shaky, but I blame this on the trouble they seemed to have with the noose this year - a powerful scene usually, this time I found myself distracted from worrying if they were going to get everything hooked together correctly. But LaCasse had the vocal range and clarity need to handle Judas' role.

This is the second year I've seen Casey Ryan as Jesus. Out of all the years I've seen Superstar at Salt City, I've been at least three other actors perform the role of Jesus. Casey Ryan is by far the best. He has the best voice - he hits the entire range of the difficult part without much apparent effort - and his acting skills are well beyond those of what I've seen from previous performers. I don't mean to criticize those who came before - I've always loved the show - but I thought this actor made for the most complex, intriguing, expressive Jesus we've seen in a long time. He was especially good during the trial and crucifixion scenes. Lucky for Salt City, Ryan is only 25 (I read some reviews of his other theatre work in the area) so hopefully he'll reprise his role for several years to come.

'Til next year - I'm eagerly awaiting the announcement on dates in Ted Neeley's Farewell Tour - the actor who played Jesus in the movie version will give a last run in the touring show. I've seen Neeley three times on stage now, and he never fails to impress. Last time I saw him he was in his mid-50s, and he could still hit every note.
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