Nearing the close of its 2018 season. South Bend Civic Theatre has produced what is, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s best show so far — “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Before you shake your heads in disbelief and claim I have seen one show too many, I will explain.
Having seen “Superstar” — music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by his best-ever collaborator Tim Rice — too many times by too many groups in too many different “artistic” inspirations, being confronted by Jill Hillman’s caustically cavernous design was, to say the least, creatively chillimg.
This chill did not last long.
It was shattered appropriately by the wails from Kevin (Alex) Peek’s electric guitar which evoked the musical definition of the cry of a soul in torment.
That was a solid precursor to the excellent work done throughout the evening by the five-member band, directed by Kerry Clark, which added just the right amount of support for every change of emotion.
It was the best “live” group heard for any production. And it certainly was not to be outdone, either by the leading players or the more-than-excellent ensemble of singing dancers— or dancing singers. They all were at the very top of their game.
Since this drama has always been more about Judas, the sinning apostle is obviously the first to make his appearance. In the voice of Lincoln Wright, it clearly depicts Judas’ rage at the aim of Jesus’ non-violent structure and his great sorrow as the leader he loves is seemingly loosing his way. His anger ultimately leads to betrayal and immeasurable guilt.
Of course, you all know this, but here it seems new and deeply horrific.
All of this is beautifully delivered by Wright and equally well-staged by director Mary Hubbard and choreographer Hannah Fischer.
Ms. Fischer has done the seemingly impossible by making the oldest story in the world seem new and different. Her dance ensemble is 11 “regulars” plus a few of the featured players who join the crowd when not otherwise engaged.
However she manages it, Fisher has developed a large group of basically non-dancers and turned them into a solid company which not only dances TOGETHER in boldly sweeping patterns but sings while dancing.
Each of the principals can hold his/her own both with the ensemble and alone on stage in a pool of lighting director Bobby Glassburn’s evocative moments.
As Jesus, Allen Roberts II holds his own at all times and is another of the incredibly talented vocalists who highlight the cast. It falls to Roberts to sing energetically through the first act and, in the second, deliver the show-stopping “Gethsemane,” a wrenching plea to God to get it over with “before I change mind.” He delivers it beautifully.
Portraying his primary adversaries are the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, played by Dean Palmer with growing revulsion at what the malicious priests are forcing him to do; and the Hebrew priests, headed by Caiaphas, (Kevin Barclay) who delivers evil in a shuddering basso that demands obedience and refuses to be swayed.
The break-for-laughter is supplied by King Herod (NaKrrah White) who greets Jesus with sarcasm and skippingly invites him to prove himself by walking across his swimming pool,
As one of the few females leading the “Superstar” lineup, Zoe Sharrock delivers a strong Mary Magdalene who stands her grounds against a raging priest and delivers the show’s best known ballad “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” with reluctant sorrow.
The only slight flaw in this mesmerizing production comes at the end when Jesus’ followers take him off the cross and carry him away into the darkness.
It is the end of the play but no one knows it and it needs something to indicate that, rather than just assuming the audience knows it. It’s a small thing but, as evidenced by this excellent production, small things mean a lot,
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR plays through Sept. 23 in the Wilson Auditorium of the South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 North Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservaions,call (54)234-1112 or visit www.sbctorg