Reviewed by Katherine Karlson

The current Endicott Performing Arts Center production of Jesus Christ Superstar rocks.

That is, it’s a half-century throwback to the heady time when popular music was used to tell dramatic stories from past historical eras. Think Pippin and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the latter also written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Director Pat Foti’s offering, which opened, Thursday (April 7), captures the same frenetic energy and poses the same disturbing questions as the original thanks to the singular lyrics and tunes.

The emotional triangle of the main characters — Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene — is solidly cast, and the performers bring depth and nuance to their respective roles. Joe Foti’s Jesus is a man with a message, sincere yet confused at its misuse at other’s hands. His polar opposite in looks and temperament is Judas Iscariot, played by a highly physical actor, Matt Gaska, who is reminiscent of Johnny Depp-as-Jack Sparrow in his off-beat appearance. These two characters have an evident “bromance” that Mary Magdalene, well-acted and sung by Cathy Russo, challenges and yet supports.

They each emphasize the tension and drama of certain blockbuster numbers — “What’s the Buzz?,” “Poor Jerusalem,” “The Temple” and “The Last Supper” — but it’s the quiet songs of introspection and self-questioning that are the show-stoppers. Russo’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is particularly sensitive and complex, as is her duet with Peter, “Could We Start Again, Please?”.  Gaska has songs on the other end of the emotional spectrum, such as “Damned For All Time” in which he wails and tears at his hair and face as he chooses to destroy Jesus to save him.

Some secondary characters also have standout moments. Nausicaä-Reidan Pitaressi as Pontius Pilate gives a strong portrayal of a man caught between a rock and a hard place when the mob demands Jesus be crucified for a reason Pilate cannot fathom. Anyone familiar with the play eagerly awaits the one comic turn by Herod. Chris DaCosta portrays him as thoroughly louche, lounging in skimpy cobalt blue briefs and flowing embroidered coat, before he and the court handmaidens launch into a vaudeville-like dance routine.

The set is simple but conveys the various locations — whether Pilate’s palace or the temple, infested by sellers of goods from fish to guns — through staircases and projections of stone walls. The costumes are particularly evocative of the so-called “hippie era” with fringed vests, flowing gauze skirts, surplus military camouflage jackets and biker leather vests and coats.  Modern touches, such as dueling TV news reporters and Judas’ choice of weapon for suicide, make the play all the more meaningful.

The ensemble deserves credit for maintaining the energy level throughout with choreography that resembles aerobic workouts. While the band embraces the super-charged music and performs it to rock concert perfection, it occasionally overpowers the singers.

Jesus Christ Superstar is an excellent reminder of how music can tell some of the most powerful stories humankind creates — and needs to be reminded of on a regular basis. This production does it full justice.

IF YOU GO: The final performance of the EPAC Repertory Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar will begin at 3 p.m. today (April 10) at EPAC, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. Reserved seating tickets are available for purchase online through the EPAC website,, and in person at the EPAC box office. Tickets are $22 (seniors and students, $20).