Review: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ shines at The Little Theatre

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Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene), Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes), Theo Touitou (Ensemble), Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth), Tyrone Brown Jr. (Ensemble), Michael Gale (Peter), Hilary Adams (Ensemble), Tracey Lucas (Ensemble) (Photo Credit: Matt Liptak)
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By Jordan Wright

When composers Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber brought their controversial musical sing-through to the Broadway stage in 1971, four-and-a-half decades ago, it wasn’t heralded by critics. In fact, the mixed reviews didn’t bode well for the young men, who, at the time, had only one successful musical to their credit, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

But after thousands of national and international productions, a film and a recent NBC TV production starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Brandon Victor Dixon and Alice Cooper, this musical hasn’t missed a beat or an audience.

You know the story. A gentle, charismatic carpenter from Nazareth with a devoted following is betrayed, abandoned, tormented and ultimately crucified by King Herod’s army. His only faithful supporter remaining is a former prostitute, Mary Magdalene, played by Thea Simpson. Director Jim Howard interprets the setting as INRI Inc., a subsidiary of Genesis Ltd., a corporate headquarters where cell phones, laptops and iPads are the preferred mode of communication for text updates on Jesus’ status and where millennials celebrate with fist bumps and high fives.

Notwithstanding some mic glitches in Act One on opening night, which were “blessedly” corrected by Act Two, we could easily hear the powerful and chilling voice of Rishabh Bajekal as Jesus of Nazareth. Bajekal had been originally cast as Judas when Howard asked him if he would like to play Jesus.

Howard then had to find his Judas, at which point he discovered Carlos Antonio Ramirez, a local radio traffic reporter and sometime local band member who has an emotional, raspy, rock-and-roll voice that reaches far beyond the theater’s front door. His star turn commences in the second number, “Heaven on Their Minds,” and, from that moment on, every time he solos, he rattles the theater’s foundations. Sweet Jesus, this man can rock out.

Another pitch perfect belter is Cody Boehm, who plays Simon Zealotes. In the eponymous song from the middle of Act One, she sets a thunder-and-lightning tone that only Bajekal and Ramirez, and the fathoms-deep bass voice of Ryaan Farhadi as the evil Caiaphas can meet.

Andy Izquierdo, coming off his success as Elwood P. Dowd in LTA’s recent production of “Harvey,” stuns in his role as the campy/snarky King Herod with a hilarious second act surprise in the number, “King Herod’s Song.” The excellent 24-member cast is choreographed by Michael Page, veteran of five previous productions at LTA, of which this one has the most dance.

How, you may ask, can so many performers dance and sing on a relatively small community theater stage? Very well. Music Director Christopher A. Tomasino, a sixtime WATCH Award winner for all six LTA musicals, conducts this powerful 21-piece band (including ten horns). Kudos to guitar soloists Ben Young and Danny Santiago, who are outstanding.

Highly recommended, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times or more.
Additional cast members are Michael Gale as Peter, Amy Lapthorne as Annas, Emmy Kampe as Priest, Hans Dettmar as Pontius Pilate and a 15-member ensemble. Lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley, Assistant Choreographer Liz Colandene and set design by Matt Liptak.

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com

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