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'Jesus Christ Superstar' had problems, but still entertaining

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" is meant to be an edgy interpretation of the Jesus story.

That's why in Contemporary Youth Arts Company's portrayal (as in, I assume, many others) of the popular operetta, Mary Magdalene lovingly strokes the messiah's long, silky brown hair as they both appear to cuddle center stage.

That's why Jesus is wearing leather pants. That's why the other cast members are dressed in contemporary garb. That's why, for that matter, the entire show can at times seem like a weird cross between "High School Musical" and "Passion of the Christ."

In other words, fundamentalists beware: "Jesus Christ Superstar" will challenge your sensibilities. Have an open mind.

The story of Jesus (played by Ryan Hardiman) picks up in his mid-life, days before his crucifixion. Judas Iscariot (Donnie Smith), resents Jesus' booming popularity and walks the line of friendship and betrayal, eventually choosing a side in the end.

The CYA rendition had a few problems. While the vocals were stellar, especially Jesus, Judas and Mary (Erin Martin), the near-constant microphone pops and fade-outs kept shattering the illusion the actors had worked so hard to create.

The play also lacked movement. Three of the main antagonists, for example, stood stalk still on raised platforms for most of the first act. In other scenes the ensemble members just sort of milled around, singing at each other with angry, concerned or happy looks on their faces.

Very few of the numbers looked like anything that could be considered a dance routine. For those that were apparently meant to be the big dance numbers, the choreography was hardly impressive, especially since most of the ensemble seemed in their late teens and entirely capable of doing more than waving their hands in the air and walking back and forth.

But, what the show lacked in choreography, it more than made up for in spectacular singing. The supporting parts of Pilate (Craig Auge) and Herod (Ted Brightwell) were especially well cast. Even some of the cameo singers with relatively small singing parts, like Simon (Rick Fleenor) and Peter (Jonathan Tucker) were absolute belters with impressive voices.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" continues at the Capitol Theater on Summers Street Friday and Saturday and April 5, 6, and 7 at 8 p.m. There is also a 2 p.m. showing Sunday.


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