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I’ll admit it. I felt a little old when I realized that the current production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Providence Performing Arts Center was the 50th anniversary tour.
Sure, I knew that the concept album was released while I was still in high school, which gave me a good frame of reference. But to see it on the banners in the lobby at PPAC last night just hit home.
From the very start, this production will grab you and keep you for the full 90 minutes. No intermission – which is great because you will not want to be interrupted.
As the curtain rises, you hear the signature sound of an electric guitar working on the beginning of the show’s overture. You see the guitarist spotlighted on the second level of the basic yet interesting set. And you realize that the show’s band/ orchestra is on that same level.
Then the entire cast rushes down the theater’s aisles from the top of the house, and the game is on.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” tells the story of Jesus’ last week on Earth, from his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem through his crucifixion. A collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the “brown album” was released in 1971 as a rock opera. The pair hoped that it would be widely accepted and would help fund a theatrical production.
Not only was the album a hit, spawning the musical, it also triggered a movie starring Ted Neely, who played the title role in touring companies for many years.
Aaron LaVigne plays Jesus in this production, and he is superb. He’s got the vocal chops to handle the range required. When he sings “Gethsemane,” one of the show’s toughest songs, he hits the high notes with ease. And he plays his plugged-in acoustic guitar as he sings. His is more a rock voice than a Broadway voice, which helps keep the show true to the original album.
In fact, the music throughout remains true to the album. There are very few variations. Okay, I’ll admit it, I know the album by heart.
Pepe Nufrio was excellent as Judas, a perfect counterpoint to LaVigne’s Jesus. Some of the show’s most electric moments are when the two are face-to-face, especially toward the end.
Jenna Rubaii is tremendous as Mary Magdalene. Her rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is soulful and heartfelt and very touching.
The supporting players are also stand-outs. Alvin Crawford (Caiaphas), Tyce Green (Annas) and Garfield Hammonds (Pilate) are perfect. And Paul Louis Lessard provides a little comic relief as Herod, throwing a little bit of King George (from “Hamilton”) into the mix.
And how about a shout-out for the ensemble? They are dancing non-stop throughout the show, and the choreography is superb. Their costuming, along with Jesus’ and Judas’, is simple. Hoodies, t-shirts, loose work-out clothes and sneakers. In contrast, the costumes for Caiaphas and the priests are both simple and ornate. Herod’s outfit is over-the-top hilarious.
One of the most impressive bits in the show is the choreographed movement with microphones, especially those used by Caiaphas and his priests. Subtle, but so impressive.
This is a reimagined “Superstar.” Part rock concert, part dance show, part light show.
It’s also an exploration into viral fame and what happens when it threatens the establishment. Pretty perfect for our times.
[“Jesus Christ Superstar” plays at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday, January 30. For tickets and information, call 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org.]
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