by Liz Griesmer
Jesus Christ Superstar was resurrected and returned to Broadway on March 22. While the Biblical portrayals of the show may offend some Christian viewers, the greatest blasphemy of the show ironically is not its empathy towards Judas or apathy towards Jesus but rather its antipathy towards silence.
Written by the prominent composer and lyricist Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical highlights the events surrounding the Passion of the Christ through a supposedly secular lens. (Think DaVinci Code set to a deafening rock-opera score.)
Even in the most dramatic moments of the show, there is never a moment for pause, for thought, for reflection, for introspection, for- dare I suggest it- prayer.
To be fair, we were warned about this from the beginning. As the lights went down, an announcer gave an ominous message in the typical candy wrapper speech: “If you wish to unwrap a candy, feel free to do so during any part of the show. The score will drown you out.”
This was no hyperbole. The sheer volume of the show managed to inhibit any audience participation. Viewers would struggle in vain to find opportunities to applaud, as the score stayed unnervingly loud from start to finish. Varying levels in decibel and volume were not to be found. After a while sitting in the theatre, the audience became desensitized to the tremendous sound, much as a child playing video games becomes accustomed to the violence. Without build-up or suspense, the roaring music had little effect.
Necks strained, veins bulged and faces reddened as the performers screamed their way for the show. The melodramatic acting by the cast was akin to bratty teenagers, hormones ablaze. Granted, the story centers around the crucifixion of a Christian God, but loud outbursts from members seemed forced rather than in the moment.
To Lloyd Webber’s credit, he did intentionally write songs that include quieter, more mellow feelings. Mary Magdalene’s character was designed as foil to the furious Jesus and Judas. After “Strange Thing Mystifying,” she sings to the tense Jesus, “everything’s alright now, everything’s fine.” However, Chilina Kennedy as Mary did not seem to grasp the intentions of either Lloyd Webber or the character itself as she belted through what should have be gentle moments in the show. The strongest actor in the show, Josh Young as Judas Iscariot, had to carry the show on his shoulders, his own cross to bear.
So for those of you heading to New York, looking for a show that will engage you, challenge you, move you and keep you in suspense, steer clear of the Neil Simon Theater.