Conceived by original director John-Michael Tebelak, and featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the musical endeavors to provide a contemporary yet timeless take on the teachings of Jesus Christ with each new production of the show incorporating topical references and updates.
In Goldstein's staging, we first see this in the "Tower of Babel" prologue, which features several of the characters texting. And as the production goes on there are references to Facebook, Lindsay Lohan, and even the recent deaths of Steve Jobs, who has apparently made it to Heaven, and Muammar Gaddafi, who has not.
Hunter Parrish, as Jesus, certainly captures the beatific quality of the Son of God, but is otherwise rather bland and possesses an adequate but not extraordinary singing voice. Indeed, he sounds best in "Beautiful City" (originally written for the show's film version), which utilizes a reverb effect to give a greater fullness to his vocals.
Wallace Smith, who takes on the roles of both John the Baptist and Judas, possesses a stronger singing voice, but his portrayals of these two key figures is lacking any emotional depth. The remaining ensemble members -- Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, Celisse Henderson, Telly Leung, Julia Mattison (substituting for Morgan James at the performance I attended), Lindsay Mendez, George Salazar, and Anna Maria Perez de Tagle -- each get moments to shine, but only a couple are consistently outstanding.
Aduba has a focused intensity that can be both comic, as in her portrayal of a rather evil-sounding bird, and dramatic, best evidenced by her rendition of "By My Side." Blaemire has a goofy but emotionally grounded presence, and he gets to lead the company in the production's most invigorating number, "We Beseech Thee." Christopher Gattelli's choreography here -- which makes use of onstage trampolines -- is quite delightful, although his work in other parts of the show feel less inspired.
David Weiner does a beautiful job with the lighting, particularly given the difficulties involved in designing for an in-the-round staging. Of particular note is the crucifixion scene, wherein he's helped out by the work of set designer David Korins that allows for a striking visual effect.
What gives the show it's power, however, is Schwartz's music, gorgeously orchestrated for this production by Michael Holland. The score contains one terrific tune after another, and even if this cast's renditions of the songs are not definitive, they're done well enough to have the audience humming along.
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