DOMA Theatre Company puts a cutting-edge contemporary spin on Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, bringing it into the 21st Century world of cell phones and selfie sticks for one of DOMA’s most spectacular shows to date.
Sung-through musicals may now be as familiar as the latest Evita revival, but when Jesus Christ Superstar made its Broadway debut, the all-singing format was a brand new phenomenon, JCSS’s spoken-dialog-free book making it one of the very first rock operas, following The Who’s Tommy by only months.
Broadway audiences must have been taken by surprise by Jesus Christ Superstar’s soaring notes, belted out by rock tenors the likes of which had rarely if ever been heard on The Great White Way, and even today, it doesn’t get more thrilling than when Nate Parker (Jesus) and Jeremy Saje (Judas Iscariot) send their voices up to heights that only canines can hear, or close to.
The darker cousin to Stephen Schwartz’s cheerier, less vocally demanding (and therefore more frequently revived) Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar takes us almost immediately to Jesus’ final days, with Judas’ warnings of the threat his friend poses to the Roman empire falling on deaf ears, the populace more concerned with updating their Instagram than in worrying whether Jesus is a mere man as Judas would have it, or God’s son.
Supporting characters include reformed prostitute Mary Magdalene (Renee Cohen), who’s got a romantic thing for her lord and savior; Pontius Pilate (Kelly Brighton), whose premonitions of Jesus’ crucifixion have him in a tizzy; high priest Caiaphas (Andrew Diego), who correctly perceives just how dangerous this Jesus might be; fellow priest Annas (Michelle Holmes), persuaded by Caiaphas to fear Jesus’ potential for bringing down Rome; Simon Zealotes (Graham Kurtz), one of Jesus’ apostles, and the one who encourages JC to fight the Romans: and King Herod (Venny Carranza), who’d like to see even a few of those miracles that have made Jesus Christ the superstar he is.
Under Marco Gomez’s incisive, imaginative direction and Chris Raymond’s as always impeccable musical direction, each of the above performers gets his or her own showcase numbers, and what showcases these are for the excitingly multitalented bunch.
Cohen gets the rock opera’s most famous pair of songs (“I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright”) and sings them quite gloriously indeed. Brighton sends “Pilate’s Dream” up to the rafters. Diego’s deeper-than deep base reveals his operatic training. Resident DOMA Queen Of Mean Holmes appears in spectacular female countertenor mode. Triple threat extraordinaire Kurtz rocks the house with “Simon Zealotes.”
As for JCSS’s two leads, Jesuses and Judases don’t get any more sensational than Parker and Saje, who not only hit the high notes each and every time but do so with abundant feeling and respect for Tim Rice’s story-telling lyrics. Parker shines particularly in an exquisitely sung and powerfully acted “Gethsemane,” laying bare Jesus’ suffering, regret, sorrow, fear, and anger, while Saje excels in his gut-wrenching breakdown and subsequent reprise of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” retitled “Judas’ Death.”
Choreographer Angela Todaro does quite possibly her most exciting work to date, whipping her ensemble of dancers and movers into terrific shape for one thrilling production number after another.
If ever there were a young, high-energy ensemble deserving of mention, it is Jesus Christ Superstar’s band of triple-threats: Alex Allen, Jackee Bianchi, Charlie Bostick, Tym Brown, Sandra Diana Cantu, Kevin Corsini, Katilyn Fae, Blair Grotbeck, dance captain Allison Jakubowski, Kendra M. Hill, Wesley Moran, Ashlie Paige, Dekontee Tucrkile, Lauren Tyni, and Anthony D. Willis, with Grotbeck meriting special mention as the thrice-denying Peter.
With musical director Raymond conducting the production’s stupendous five-member band* and Julie Ferrin working her sound design miracles, this Jesus Christ Superstar sounds as sensational as it looks, and it looks pretty darned sensational indeed.
Scenic designer John Iacovelli has come up with a terrific geometric-themed two-level set that allows us to move from locale to locale in an instant, and Christina Schwinn’s lighting design is appropriately flashy whenever flashy is needed.
Best of all are Lauren Oppelt’s dazzling array of costumes, everything from contemporary street wear to Armani-esque black suits to military combat gear to S&M leather to Vegas pizzazz, complemented by Karen Sanchez’s splendid wig and makeup design (credit shared with F/X makeup and wig supervisor Jessica Kuhns) and Hallie Baran’s imaginative props.
Jesus Christ Superstar is produced by Dolf Ramos and Gomez, the latter of whom is also executive producer. Gabrieal Griego is production manager/stage manager. Aaron Lyons and Brad Bentz are technical directors.
The kind of big-scale, big-cast, small-stage musical extravaganzas it is impossible to imagine without L.A.’s endangered 99-seat plan, Jesus Christ Superstar is but the latest in a series of productions that have made DOMA Theatre Company our city’s premier producers of 99-seat musicals.
Lloyd Webber fans will be in Sir Andrew heaven.
*Michael Abraham (guitar), Graham Chapman (bass), Yuhong Ng (piano 2), Raymond (piano), and Logan Shrewsbury (drums)
DOMA Theatre Co. @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.
March 8, 2015
Photos: Michael Lamont