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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ on Broadway: What did critics think?

March 23, 2012 | 10:04 am

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“Jesus Christ Superstar" has once again been resurrected. The Gospel-inspired musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which made its Broadway debut in 1971, opened Thursday night at New York’s Neil Simon Theatre.

The biblically based rock opera loosely tells the story of Jesus Christ’s final days, which (spoiler alert) don't end well for the title character. This time around, director Des McAnuff’s revival is less about the '70s hippie “Hair” love-thy-neighbor vibe, instead offering a glitzy, graphic take on the infamous execution. 

Apostles don stylish street wear while performing acrobatics, a Times Square-style ticker counts down the Messiah’s last minutes and the final whipping and crucifixion end in blood splatters across the backdrop of the stage.

“Superstar” premiered last summer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada before making its way to San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, where McAnuff twice served as artistic director. 

Times theater critic Charles McNulty saw the show in December and became a convert, writing that the performance “has had the miraculous effect of turning even an Andrew Lloyd Webber denier like me into a momentary believer.” 

The first reviews from New York were mixed with critics less inclined to offer their blessings.

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter praised the production, writing that “McAnuff’s pedal-to-the-metal direction never precludes sincerity as it weighs the once-controversial man-or-Messiah question.” And the staging is “likely to speak to '70s nostalgists … as well as younger musical fans curious to know what the fuss was about.”  

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News wrote that "Act I feels like a Super Bowl halftime show with lots of ADD-style energy, visual punch and Janet Jackson-esque choreography” but lacked soul. He added that the show finds its footing by the second act "in the eye-popping crucifixion extravaganza" and that "by the time Jesus hovers over orchestra seats on a self-steering motorized platform, the production earns an enthusiastic OMG!"

A less enthused Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote, “I have to confess to finding the show alternately hilarious and preposterous — if often infectiously melodic — during the two hours’ busy traffic of Mr. McAnuff’s brisk and lucid staging.” He added that the standout performance came from Josh Young as Judas, who, he wrote, was “vocally lustrous” and “charismatic.” 

USA Today’s Elysa Gardner had one of the harsher reviews, writing that “vocally, Josh Young's Judas sets the tone” but “nonetheless overdoes his character's angst. Paul Nolan's Jesus is more reserved at first, but by the second act, both men are crooning and screaming like 'American Idol' contestants on steroids.”

RELATED:

Theater review: 'Jesus Christ Superstar' in La Jolla

Theater review: 'Waiting for Godot' at the Mark Taper

Theater review: The 'Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King'

-- Jamie Wetherbe

Photo: Chilina Kennedy and Paul Nolan perform in "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Credit: David Hou

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