Super JCS production takes over Lyric stage

Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera (Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018)
Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera
(Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018)

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Experiencing ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera at the Lyric, is akin to attending a high-powered rock concert.

Amps are set on high much of the time so audiences really do need to already know the lyrics. The high intensity stage lighting designed by Lee Curran echoes those of Super Bowl half times.

The main tenors, Jesus Christ (Heath Saunders)  and Judas Iscariot (Ryan Shaw) mix singing with high-pitched, grating screams, and they, plus Pontius Pilate (Michael Cunio who is also a tenor) play their guitars on stage. In addition, the singers use mikes. Indeed, the mike handling is often a part of the choreography.

In other words, the Lyric production would gladden the hearts of today’s Millennial Generation.

 

Jo Lampert as Mary Magdalene. (Todd Rosenberg photography)
Jo Lampert as Mary Magdalene. (Todd Rosenberg photography)

Even though the production is the North American premiere of director Timothy Sheader’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ that won an Oliver award in London it has  several Lyric musicians and voices.

Of the show’s 37 musicians, 31 are from the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Most are in the back of the stage but look for six of them in the rhythm section in the upper left part of a two-story set designed by Tom Scutt.

The singing is right on with 13 of 39 ensemble members from the Lyric Opera Chorus.

Then there is the gorgeous voice of Jo Lampert as Mary Magdalene. Lampert is a welcome balance so the production can be seen as more than a rock concert.

It still showcases Webber’s music and Rice’s  lyrics with the popular “Hosanna” sung by Jesus, Caiaphas (Calvin Cornwall)  and company, the Mary’s lyrical ballad, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and Jesus’ standout song,  “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).”

In other words, for the non-millennial and non-rock concert goer, the Lyric production is worth seeing if only to hear Lampert’s love tribute and Saunders’ amazing “I Only Want to Say” when he prays to God in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This production has contemporary choreography by Drew McOnie that works fine when slipping into rock concert mode with biblical-looking staff-like mikes but the dances sometimes take away from the story of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem.

However, the production does include a fun moment in this serious story with a number by King Herod (Shaun Fleming) reminiscent of King George in “Hamilton.”

DETAILS: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through May 20, 2018. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera JCS.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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