Deborah Howell Reviews "Jesus Christ Superstar" At The Hollywood Pantages

October 30, 2019
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Back in the day, I’d raid the fridge and pop open a big bottle of Dr. Pepper after classes. Then I’d head straight for the living room and turn on the stereo and drop the needle on the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and start my workout.

While belting out every song (and every nuance in every song, and some of the instrumental parts, too) I’d kick, swirl, twist, push, jog and squat my way through this seminal body of work that was essential for all kids of gen rock n’ roll to memorize in toto.

By the time “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” rolled around  (the quintessential ballad for crunches)  my voice was hoarse, my abs were taut but sore, and my soul was on fire.  It seemed no less than miraculous (pun intended) to me at the time that such a perfect story should now have this perfectly powerful musical to accompany it. I was simply insane for it, and made it my life goal to play Mary in the Broadway show when I came of age. (And grew my hair really long and dyed it brown.)

So naturally, I was curious to see if those songs still held their magic now that I’m all grown up and had been invited to witness the musical for the very first time. Turns out, The Hollywood Pantages was positively buzzing with an audience brimming with fellow “Superstar” super-fanatics.  How, in God’s name, (or in Jesus’)  would we all not burst into song together? I feared that collectively we’d be unable to control our inner Mary/Judases and ruin the production.

I needn’t have worried. The principle performers and the chorus were so magnificently mesmerizing that as the story unfolded we were completely at their mercy. Not a pin drop was heard as guitar-strumming Aaron LaVigne  (Jesus)  delivered his utterly divine version of “Gesthemane”-- giving it his own extraordinary sensitivity and drawing us in like so many disciples.

And the pristine vocals of Jenna Rubaii  in the role of Mary instantly silenced any instinct we might have had to add our own voices to her incredible take on the beloved jewels  ”I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Could We Start Again, Please.” Her voice seemed to echo the cool, calming ointment with which she anointed Jesus’ feet. In fact, it is her portrayal of Mary which provides soothing relief from the relentless testosterone-fueled march toward crucifying a man who’d become too powerful for his enemies’ liking.

 

As for Judas  (James Delisco Beeks) I really have no idea how he can keep unleashing the torrent of vocal emotion night after night without sustaining damage to his instrument. His performance is in turns soulful, soaring, sensational and scorching—leaving absolutely everything on the floor.

The lighting and staging are equally appealing to the eye, but the scene forever etched in my memory will be “39 Lashes”, when Aaron LaVigne is assaulted by his enemies. With each sharp glitter-torn lash to his torso, LaVigne defies gravity, morphing his body into a storm-torn rag doll, tossed carelessly amongst the cruel crowd who had earlier basked in his glory.

The effect is utterly devastating. 

The musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics from Tim Rice rings every bit as true in the year 2019 as it did when it won Billboard Album of the Year in 1971. And this particular production picked up the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, garnering unprecedented reviews and accolades from audiences and critics alike.

If any part of this timeless score is emblazoned on your DNA, please honor it by taking someone you love to see Jesus Christ Superstar, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” plays the Hollywood Pantages through this Sunday, November 3RD, so grab your tickets at Ticketmaster.com or at the Hollywood Pantages Box office.