Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jesus Star Superstar (Playhouse Square Foundation)

Ted Neeley, Corey Glover and SUPERSTAR all rise to the occasion at the Palace

It is appropriate that at this time of the year Playhouse Square Center has brought in a touring production of ‘JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.’ And quite a production it is.

Superstar opened on Broadway in 1971. Jeff Fenholt played Jesus. In 1972 Neeley was cast in the lead role for the touring production which seemingly has run forever. He also played the role in the 1973 movie version.

Every once in while a play and a performer became synonymous. Think Carol Channing and ‘HELLO DOLLY’ and Zero Mostel and ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.’ When ‘JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR’ is mentioned Neeley and Jesus have become parallel elements.

Touring productions, especially those that have been on the road for a long time, often aren’t fresh. This can’t be said for this touring show. It sizzles. It is vital. It is fresh. It is exciting. The singing, the dancing and the story interpretation are all on-key.

Much of the excitement is mustered by the excellent chorus who play the apostles and numerous other roles. However, Corey Glover, best known as a member of the rock band “Living Color,” makes the production special. He is dynamic as Judas. Glover has a full voice and becomes so involved in the role that he sucks the audience right into the action.

Neeley never seems to age or go into automatic pilot as some performers do after playing a role for a long time-span. I’ve seen him do this role several times, and, if anything, he has deepened his Jesus-like presence. No matter what your religious orientation, Neeley makes you believe, as he floats upward on the cross at the end of the play, that he is on his way to a special place, and that his presence will long be felt.

Christina Rea-Briskin makes the role of Mary Magdalene hers. She sings well, interprets songs proficiently and acts the role with conviction. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” her duet with Neeley, is compelling. “Could We Start Again, Please,”her duet with Chris Gleim (Peter) brought screaming appreciation from the audience.

Aaron Fuksa’s “King Herod’s Song,” was a sight and sound show-stopping delight.

Capsule judgment:. This, the 2006 national tour of Superstar, is supposedly Neeley’s swan song. Supposedly it is his final appearance in the role. So, if the public relations is true, you’d better get down to the Palace and see him now. It’s worth the trip