May 02--For the first time in my life, I saw a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and I could understand each and every lyric.
The diction of the singers in the production staged by Moravian College's theater and music departments was clear and distinct and was evidence of the classical musical training the singers had had. It was a treat to be able to understand all the words in the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera as well as enjoy the singing of the music.
It added to the pleasure of experiencing a well-sung, well-played version of the oft-done musical.
The production co-directed by Christopher Schorr and Paula Zerkle was unusual in that all the roles were cast from the Moravian College music department and it showed. The singing was superb. And Foy concert hall, not usually a site for musical productions, has great acoustics which made it easy to hear every single note.
The cast used the all of concert hall to its advantage, with groups of actors moving up and down the steps in the audience while singing counterpoint which gave a wonderful aural sensation of being in the center of the music.
Thom Gustave Eiser who played Judas is very charismatic and has an amazing voice. The character of Judas basically drives the show and Eiser was well suited to the task, even delivering some of those rock-star style shrieks.
As Jesus, Benjamin Wallace, while in good voice, seemed a little tentative at first, although he more than made up for it in his impassioned pleas to God in "Gethsemane.
Alexandra Fontini had a lovely voice as Mary Magdalene and Michael Wisnosky as Caiaphas just resonated on his low notes.
Schorr's placing of the action in a revolutionary South American-style environment with banners and machine guns worked for me. It had a vibe of 20th century Israel as well.
In Schorr's casting women in some of the key roles, I felt Camille Nesbeth who played the apostle Simon was more successful than Maggie Callahan who played Pontius Pilate. While Callahan had the attitude down and her soprano vocals were good, it didn't quite work for me to have a soprano as Pilate.
Herod as played by Joe Mozingo was a showstopper. His hilarious take on the standout role backed by a bevy of gold lame clad girls, was simply inspired
The lighting which all had to be brought in was perfect, and the set designed and built by Shorr and Jp Jordan of Touchstone Theatre, which encompassed the very full-sounding 16-piece band, worked well and crosses which doubled as standards for propaganda posters added an ironic touch. And I had to laugh at all the "Jesus" merchandise in the temple scene.
Schorr directs an interesting take on Judas' death in which he gives himself a heroin overdose rather than hanging himself. Although it seemed a bit jarring at first, it surprisingly worked with the music which seems to almost suggest a hallucinogenic trip.
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