The Biblical story of Jesus gets a wittily irreverent retelling in the praiseworthy new musical Judas and Me, now at the ATA Chernuchin Theatre. Featuring book and lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar -- the team best known for Broadway's The Wedding Singer -- the show is a fun and engaging cross between Jesus Christ Superstar and Gypsy, with a dash of Monty Python thrown in for good measure.
It opens with a host of angels appearing before a woman, proclaiming that she has been chosen to be mother to the son of God -- except they have the wrong house, and Rheba Iscariot (Barbara Walsh) is no Virgin Mary (Jennifer Laura Thompson). But while the angels move on, Rheba is determined to raise son Judas (Nick Blaemire) to be the religious leader she knows he could be -- even if he's more interested in irrigation -- and better than that upstart Jesus (Doug Kreeger) who lives next door.
The show revisits various Biblical incidents, such as the resurrection of Lazarus (Timothy J. Alex) and the conversion of Mary Magdalene (Nikki Snelson), but with a few twists and turns along the way. The lyrics are clever and funny, while the music combines a more traditional musical theater sound with elements of psalms and gospel -- most notably in the roof-raising "Tell Your Friends."
The excellent Walsh leads a terrific cast, which also includes the always reliable Ann Harada as Rheba's neglected daughter Elke and the divine Leslie Kritzer as archangel Gabriel. Kreeger is particularly endearing as a teenage Messiah who is still a little unsure of himself, while Blaemire is appropriately awkward as Judas. Their duet, "Rome," is a nice moment of bonding that helps to demonstrate their friendship, as well as their yearning to escape from the expectations of those around them. And while the end of this particular story is never in any real doubt, the musical provides a highly entertaining journey to get there.
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