By now, almost anyone interested in theater has an opinion about Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera about the final days of Jesus. My take: despite a thoroughly uneven score, Webber’s future penchant for empty bombast hadn’t quite taken over yet, and ultimately, the show is rather moving. The reframing of the story to place Jesus and Judas as opposite sides of the same coin is intriguing, but it’s a little hard to accept Webber and Rice’s Jesus — a petty, whiny, violent figure who hardly seems like the leader of a movement.
With that out of the way, let’s look at Village Theatre’s production, on stage through July 31. Directed by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner (and longtime Village associate artistic director) Brian Yorkey, this is a staging that brims with excitement and features unwaveringly high production values. The set pieces are impressive, the orchestra is on point and the show has the added kick of having two actors alternate in the roles of Jesus and Judas — Michael K. Lee and Aaron C. Finley.
Lee played Jesus at Thursday’s opening night performance, and his incredible vocal range electrified the stage, particularly in Act II’s “Gethsemane,” where Jesus laments his upcoming fate. Finley, while possessing strong vocals, was done no favors by the abundance of reverb his mic was afforded and his own troubles with enunciating clearly. He tended to look a little lost in the role, particularly in the big showstopper, “Superstar,” where he seemed swallowed up by sequins and the surrounding dancers. One wonders if his meek demeanor might be more suited to the role of Jesus.
Like a lot of productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, this one revels in its anachronisms, with set design by Matthew Smucker that evokes the feel of a war-torn refugee camp with its concrete barriers and a 20-foot tall barbed-wire fence.