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Jesus Christ Superstar by ALW

“Understand What Power Is”

        “Understand what power is; understand what glory is.”

Such as Jesus said, as he’s put on the highest position, given all the praises from his followers, believing that one man can know it all, do it all, and save them all from miseries.

        The 2012 Broadway revival production of Jesus Christ Superstar features young performers with charismatic voices and impressive acting skills. The chemistries between characters are convincing and the pace intense; the transitions between sections smooth, and the design of the production daring yet not overwhelming. It is a musical/rock opera based on the story of Jesus Christ, yet the underlying theme of the story is more of a cautionary tale of the danger of fame. Jesus Christ Superstar, is guiding us to focus more on “superstar” than who Jesus Christ is believed to be.

        Jesus of Galilee, the man who preaches in the temple to spread the words of kindness, seems to have the power of healing the sick and helping the poor. People start to ask for more, forgetting that the prophet they deified is nothing but a man. The character of Jesus, presented in JCS, reminds me of the big names in the public spotlight, glorified for their deeds. There are always delusions of celebrities being superhuman. Famous people soon become so glorified that they are not allowed to disappoint, or be ordinary in any shape or form. We expect perfection from public figures, and as their virtues are being magnified, their flaws are too. Little mistakes that are considered trivial and forgivable in common peasants bring the superstar disgrace and public downfall.

        At the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas Iscariot warns Jesus about the consequences of the fame and remains concerned throughout. We see the apostles follow and demand the teaching from Jesus. In the 12 apostles’ eyes, Jesus is their prophet, whom they’ll write about after they retire. They’re Jesus’ cabin crew, his agents, who will write his biography, except Judas. I don’t know what to give Judas as a epitaph, maybe just say, “Judas Iscariot, friend.” He was suspicious about Mary being with Jesus, saying that she doesn’t fit Jesus’ ideals. Of course, both Judas and Mary care about Jesus, in their own ways, and eventually the two of them found mutual understanding.

        Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, yet she sang, “I don’t know how to love him”. Her, along with Judas, truly loved Jesus as a man; they two of them, are not followers, but were trying to take care of the man under great pressure.  (“Everything’s alright” and “I don’t know how to love him”) Mary anoints Jesus, not asking for anything in return, and Judas, risking his own dignity to choose that’s right to do. I see them as friends of the superstar who remembers a man can have flaws, and warns the superstar to hold back before goes too far up the cliff.

        I saw three different versions of Judas Iscariot in this production. Josh Young, the listed Judas has a rich and deep voice and can also belt rock screams with explosive power. He shows the struggles of Judas well as the character goes through his fate. The angst, hesitation and regrets are clear in his presentation. Jeremy Kushnier, ensemble member, understudies both Jesus and Judas but I only got to see him go on for the latter. Kushnier has a high tenor voice, which has an airy quality. His version of Judas is compassionate and emotionally tortured. He chose to approach the role in a completely different angle from Young, which is a great success. Last but not least, Nick Cartell, swing of the company and covers both lead roles as well as the male ensembles, has a powerful, strong rock voice. His Judas solos are flourished with solid, strong high notes and variations. He’s easily differentiated from the other two vocally. However, I couldn’t compare their emotions because when I saw Cartell, I was in the last row of Mezzanine, where you can’t tell the facial expressions of the actors on the stage.  

        Get back to the story itself, Jesus was considered a problem and was dangerous to the priests. Think of government controls and when it’s threatened by individual’s influences and power. People start to mystify Jesus Christ and believe those things, and the worse part is, they get angry when they found out what they decided to be true, was all a fantasy. Yet they blame Jesus, calling him a fraud and turn blind love into hatred.

        He who gets raised up too high by the crowd, hurts the most when he’s dropped. The myth part of the story, of course, was still that Jesus prophesize his death, and Judas foresaw himself betraying his best friend and the one he admires the most. Judas’ character is the most complicated and can have so many different layers of interpretations. Here’s just a few: you can see him as being jealous of Jesus over Mary Magdalene. You can see him as being disappointed in his best friend in not confiding in him. You can see him as a loyal advisor to Jesus, yet was misunderstood and emotionally tormented by all, etc.

        So here’s the dilemma and common tragedies of heroes. They’re loved in their prime, but when they’re discovered to have anything ordinary, the illusion diminishes and they receive hatred. “Why are you all so obsessed with fighting?” Jesus asks. What he really was asking is that, why are people all so into being extreme. Everything is not black and white and people of the world are all complicated, multi-dimensional. The stars in the spotlights are human beings of our own kinds, but a message to be heard; yet they are never perfect and are never supposed to be. It’s dangerous to falsely set up expectations. Disappointment leads to complete flip of attitude, sometimes extreme hated.

        The next time you expect too much from someone, remember, he’s just a man. 

Set in an old theatre that is about to be pulled down, Follies started off with Sally standing in front of the door, longing and anxious to be back, as an ex-follies girl. Sally and Phyllis’ got the most stories in the show as their characters develop and the audience see their transitions from wide eyed youth to a housewife, a hostess, into the world of the grown ups. 

Follies has the best general quality as a classical musical, among the shows I’ve seen this summer. The stellar cast and familiar tunes are memorable. 

I’m being critical and say there are certain costumes and backdrops that I found unnecessary and overly cheesy, but in general the subtle and fluent storyline in the show makes it so complex and rich. 

Jan Maxwell is a show stopper. This slim and elegant woman controls the entire stage whenever she’s at presence. 

I was initially there for Elaine Paige. I started listen to her songs since first encountered the notion of Broadway musical. However, I didn’t think she fits the role of Carlotta much. 

I also never cared much about Bernadette Peters. She did a good job portraying the role of Sally and I can see her charm. 

Seeing Follies only once is not enough for one to discover all the exquisite details of the show. It’s not my favorite genre but it’s something I would recommend to people who love musical theatre in all age group.