Friday, July 8, 2016
Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #367 - Jesus Christ Superstar
Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #367 - Jesus Christ Superstar
Here's my most recent review of the Barn's Jesus Christ Superstar.
I remember how you cut out and saved my publications. I recently found one of your folders. I loved how you would fold the paper back and set the review on the counter to read while you stayed up late into the night doing laundry after being gone all day doing your therapy shopping and appointments. Later, after the meningitis, I folded the paper for you and gave you the reviews to read until you couldn't really read anymore at all. But you had some good reading years, and you were always proud of me, which meant so much to me.
For readers, I confess that I LOVE this rock opera and have since I was a young boy in the 1970s when it came out. I am not sure if this makes me more critical of productions of it or less.
My main goal in writing reviews -- at least this is how I feel -- is to encourage people to attend the live theater. It's an art form that has struggled to stay afloat let alone be successful, especially small, regional theaters. The Barn is not exactly small. It's a professional house that serves as a school for young performers who want to earn their Equity cards and want to bolster their lists of productions with some choice work and roles. But for all its quality and talent, it's not possessed of the budget or armies of workers that large touring companies possess or big house theaters in major cities enjoy.
I am sad watching the dwindling audiences. People should turn out to support their local theaters. that said, I am no better, only turning out for shows I am paid to see.
LINK TO REVIEW IN BATTLE CREEK ENQUIRER
"Jesus Christ Superstar”
a production of the Barn Theatre
at the Barn Theatre, Augusta, MI
Attended Date: July 05, 2016
reviewed by Christopher Tower
Before Tuesday’s opening night performance, Brandon Ragotzy of the Barn Theatre asked for a show of hands: how many people had never seen “Jesus Christ Superstar” before? Many raised hands in the mostly full house. It’s a sea of hands that Ragotzy should see every night for the next two weeks.
There are some shows that must be seen and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one such show. It’s essential viewing for everyone whether interested in theater or not, Christian or otherwise.
In the capable hands of the Barn company and director Brandon Ragotzy, even without the lavish extras featured in touring productions or a 1073 film set in Israel, this version of the quintessential 1970s pop-rock opera is powerful and emotionally moving.
The success of any production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” relies on its three main characters: Judas (Eric Parker), Jesus (Jay Poff), and Mary Magdalene (Samantha Rickard). If anyone of this trio is weak the entire show will fail. The Barn has no problems in this regard with talented and impressive performers as its Big Three.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” charts the last days of Christ, and the show ends with his death on the cross. Leading up to Christ’s last earthly breath, Judas (Parker) struggles with Christ’s growing popularity, fearing that he has gone too far and will get their group killed. Christ (Poff) sees his own death coming and grapples with the fixed result as he sings that God “holds all the cards.” Mary (Rickard) tries to make sense of her feelings for Christ, expressed in one of the signature songs of the 1970s: “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.”
A short show that barely breaks two hours even with an extended intermission, a large cast supports the three main characters with large dance numbers, and a rock music score that thunders away from the orchestra pit.
Performers climb about on a fishing village style set of ramps and cat walks designed by Michael Wilson Morgan, one of the show’s best features. Choreography by Jamey Grisham and led by dance captain Melissa Cotton Hunter is sharp and well-suited to the show, especially in the campy number with King Herod (John Jay Espino) and with Judas’ beyond the grave inquiry in “Superstar.” Grisham and Hunter have obviously studied old musical films and 1970s soul videos. It’s brilliant stuff.
Ragotzy, who directed the show when the Barn performed it 13 years ago, masters each moment, though with an excellent company he probably did not have to draw extra out of these performers. Each company member is fully involved in every moment of the show adding details through facial expressions and movement. Ragotzy also reprises his role from the previous production as Pontius Pilate. His performance is slick and very styled, in some ways like 1970s rocker Alice Cooper.
But despite the directing and performing excellence of the show, some technical aspects reveal a few shortcomings. Though lighting design by Molly Lamperis is at times quite smart, at other times it fails the moment, such as in Judas’ Death scene or what should be a glitzier “Superstar.” And though the band is tight and well practiced as led by Matt Shabala, some of the songs are rushed in a tempo that does not serve them well. Also, confined to the pit, the band is just not loud enough at key moments, such as the opening chords of “Superstar.” It may have made more sense to have the band on stage, but given the huge company in this summer stock season that was obviously not an option.
Thankfully, these shortcomings are minor and may not be apparent to those who have never seen “Superstar” before.
Eric Parker kills in the role of Judas (quite literally). Parker who performed the role thirteen years ago has brought down the intensity a bit, but he can still rock it out high and hard. As one of the cream of the Barn’s stable of returning talent, Parker nails the acting in every look and gesture, while avoiding the standard “Parkerisms” that I mentioned held him back, if only a little, in 2003.
Even better is Samantha Rickard in the role of Mary. Casting a woman with a deeper and richer vocal range than many who play the role was a smart move on Ragotzy’s part. Rickard is beautiful and sweet; her voice is as smooth and clear as thick cream and just as delicious. And as an actress, she delivers all the intensity of the role.
Speaking of casting, the Barn is fortunate to bring in Jay Poff for his Augusta debut in the role of Jesus. Hailing from Lancaster, PA via Huntsville, AL, Poff looks and acts the part very well. Though sometimes movement or pitch swallow his vocals, he nails the “Gethsemane” song perfectly, as Jesus cries out to God about “Why should I die?”
In small roles, King Herod (Espino) is hilarious and just shy of over-hamming the role. The priests Caiaphas (Charlie King), Annas (Patrick Hunter), and Priest #1 (Hans Friedrichs) perform well, though the up tempo problem is most noticeable in how it affects King’s performance during “Jesus Must Die.” But huge headdresses for the priests designed by costumer Carly Heathcote are brilliant. Simon Zealotes (Jamey Grisham) and Peter (Nicholas R. Whitaker) are also notable standouts.
This “Superstar” may be at its best in the large crowd scenes that take advantage of the entire company as “Hosanna” and “The Temple” are two of the best scenes in the show.
As a not to be missed pop culture icon, this rock opera re-imagining of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is ageless and may spark new insights for believers and non-believers alike. It’s another notch in the crown of what is a high quality 70th season for the Barn Theatre.
Reflect and connect.
Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.
I miss you so very much, Mom.
Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.
- Days ago = 369 days ago
- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1607.08 - 10:10
NOTE on time: When I post late, I had been posting at 7:10 a.m. because Google is on Pacific Time, and so this is really 10:10 EDT. However, it still shows up on the blog in Pacific time. So, I am going to start posting at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time, intending this to be 10:10 Eastern time. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom. But I am not going back and changing all the 7:10 a.m. times. But I will run this note for a while. Mom, you know that I am posting at 10:10 a.m. often because this is the time of your death.