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27 March 2008

JC Superstar

from Meg Hale

The Gospel According to Rock

Last week, BioFlyer Productions put on Andrew Lloyd Webber's immortal classic "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Diana Wortham Theater. I'm told that I saw the best of the performances, the one on Good Friday, it's closing night. This means that I did not witness (but did hear about) the performance where Jesus freed his hand from the cross it was nailed to, to adjust the crown of thorns atop his head, before reattaching it to the cross. Of course, it only made matters worse when the crown fell around his neck like Prince John's crown in Disney's "Robin Hood." Okay, so I didn't see it happen, but you have to pass a story like that along.

BioFlyer is the production company owned and operated by Paul 'Rock' Eblen. For "Jesus Christ Superstar," Eblen served as the show's producer, director, and... yes, you guessed it - Jesus.

It takes a certain amount of ego to think yourself qualified to direct an Andrew Lloyd Webber piece; it is flat out disillusioned to think that you can keep up with Jesus' character's vocal range for this show, when you can barely hit anything above Middle C.

Every singer knows the fun role in "Jesus Christ Superstar" is Judas. He gets all the big numbers that open and close the show, all the pieces with the good beats and opportunities to wail. And let's face it, we're all looking for an excuse to wear leather or tassles. Steven Brooks kicks serious biblical butt in this role. He has a great belt-voice, a range that goes on for days and has a lot of fun with the part.

Mary Kathryn Lyerly also rocked supremely in the role of Mary Magdalene. She has this very sweet, demure voice and then, really blasts it out during her solo, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

This makes it all the more frustrating to see Eblen, stepping down an octave, mid-song, because he simply cannot hit the high notes. The high-notes, incidentally, are the only fun things about the Jesus role. Whenever he has a solo, the generally rocking nature of the play stops and takes on an introspective, more ballad-type tone. If you’re not (as an audience) being impressed by the range of the actor playing Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot else to pay attention to.

Honestly, this is the first production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” I’ve seen where I found Jesus to be whiny. It was like watching Eeyore get crucified. That would make Tigger Judas, Rabbit would be Pontius Pilate… but I digress.

My point is that I know that the Jesus part in this play is hard as hell to sing. Most singers can’t do it. Though Eblen has a passable voice, he could not pull it off.

The rest of the cast is a group of very talented actors and singers. Tristan Tagar as Pilot and Ricky Webb as Simon also were able to show off their voices. Paul Trani as King Herod got a great response from the audience, though his costume was Dr. Frankenfurter from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I like seeing random men in thigh-highs too, but let’s call it what it is - unoriginal

A lot of the vocal abilities of the cast were played down by microphone difficulties. Only a few times did the soloists mic come on for the first word of their solo, instead of 2 lines into it. Some singers in the chorus had microphones and some didn’t, which is never wise.

The multimedia was just a bad idea all around. Shots of gargoyles and demons, with a claw coming across the screen during Judas’ songs, paintings of Jesus next to photos of Martin Luther King during the crucifixion… the whole thing was one big head-tilt for me.

In short, I felt that the show was good, but that all decisions made were ultimately wrong.

Lonesome West

from wnctheatre,

The Lonesome West is the final play in the Connemara Trilogy by Martin McDonagh, and was directed by Lloyd Kay at the Studio Theater at HART. Kay has directed the other two plays of the trilogy as well over the past several years.

Overall I found the play to be quite entertaining and engaging, but there is something a little off. I am inclined to think the problem is scriptural in nature, but I am not sure if these problems could have been fixed, or at least ameliorated, by different direction. (One thing that most definitely could have helped pacing would have been to tighten the unbearably long [and often silent] scene changes. There were mercifully few of them, but each lasted close to a full minute.) The two main characters, brothers Valene (Rick Sibley) and Coleman Connor (Steve Crider), have a quarrelsome relationship to say the very least. Constantly bickering, with the bickering often escalating into physical fights, a good 50-60% of the play is sort of like an Irish episode of Jerry Springer with significantly better written dialogue and many more teeth. They definitely have some hilarious zingers, but after a while, I was wanting and waiting for a point or a purpose, and couldn’t quite find one. They have a slight redemption arc towards the end of the play, but, all told, they end up right where they started for all I can tell. In something like No Country for Old Men, for example, the character’s lack of redemption was a vehicle for social commentary, so it had a larger purpose. It is possible that the same sort of thing was the goal here; I’m not certain. Perhaps the whole play is meant as a Great Gatsby-esque setting snapshot more than as a strict narrative. Perhaps it fits better if you've seen the other two plays of the trilogy, which I've not.

Performances were all solid, stand-outs probably being Crider as Coleman and Trinity Smith as Girleen. I thought the male roles were cast a bit too old, mainly because Coleman brags about an imaginary tryst with Girleen, who is supposed to be seventeen years old. Maybe I'm being stodgy but I found it a little odd, and it took me out of the moment. Maybe it would have helped if they hadn't also put Girleen in pigtails, thereby making her look even more childlike. Michael Boulos as Father Welsh definitely would have been a little more believable as a younger man, as - among other reasons - Girleen comes to have romantic feelings for him. I'm not saying it's out of the realm of possibility for it to have happened, but the tone of their relationship suggested that the role was meant to be played by someone closer to her age. Father Welsh and Girleen do have a rather sweet, poignant scene together at the top of Act 2, though, which was much needed in the midst of all the fighting and “feck”ing. In fact, generally speaking, I found their secondary storyline and characters quite a bit more intriguing than the primary thrust of the play.

02 March 2008

From the editor...

Hi all-- Just a quick "thank you" to our recent/new contributers, as well as a friendly reminder to everyone to please continue to sign your posts. Anonymous postings are less helpful in establishing a community of different-minded individuals: without a "handle" we won't be able to get to know individual reviewers' tastes and styles. It is our hope that "APAR: Online and Ontarget" will keep growing, and these small steps to help make and keep it a valuable resource are much appreciated.
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