Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Holy Week approaches on the Christian calendar, and with it comes the waving of palms, the washing of feet, penance, hot cross buns, the Cadbury bunny and (holy moly!) the 47-year-old rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar.
Directed by Patrick Foti, the Endicott Performing Arts Center’s production goes as large-scale as a show can on the cozy stage of EPAC’s vintage theater in Endicott.
Joseph Foti plays the title character with the kind of irreverent humanity that the composers had in mind. Foti’s Jesus vocalizes like any of the best screamers of the hard rock era, and his ballads are very well done, too, especially “Poor Jerusalem.” I could hear him channel the original Jesus, Ted Neely.
Nicholas Sewchek plays the central figure in Superstar, Judas Iscariot. He, too, must reach really high and low to achieve the range this score requires. Both he and Foti do a fantastic job embodying the horrors that both Judas and Jesus are forced to endure.
Shannah Hall as Mary Magdalene sings “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” with feeling and skill, but it’s her duet with Colin Cook’s Peter — “Could We Start Again, Please?” — that gave me the chills (and still does as I write about it). The silhouetted figure of Jesus and his tormentors behind them as they sing from opposite sides of the stage is stunning. Their voices blend in a harmony that is at once unique and familiar. Just beautiful.
Matthew Gaska’s Pontius Pilate, in “Pilate’s Dream,” lets you really believe that he didn’t want to have Jesus’ blood on his hands. He has a beautiful voice. I’ve seen this young man in many shows now, and he just gets better and better as his voice matures. He is also the assistant director for this production.
Lou Ligouri and Joe Fiacco, as High Priests Caiaphas and Annas respectively, and Jim Lamb, John M. Cook and Paul Konkowski, as the priests in the temple, are frightening and assertive in “This Jesus Must Die.”
Simon Zealots is nicely done by Christopher DaCosta. Samantha Heatherman has a small but important role as the Maid by the Fire, who challenges Peter.
King Herod’s campy scene with Jesus is often known to be a show-stopper with its classic Broadway sassiness and flamboyance. (Dee) Yancey Moore Jr. does fine in the role that is all about the glittery costume, but I want Moore to have even more fun with it than he did on opening night (March 31). It’s rich with entertainment possibilities.
Rounding up the rest of the guys who “always hoped that they’d be an apostle” are Eli Carlin, Jamie Cook, Corey Brady, Vito Longo, Matt Snyder, Steven Taylor, Alex Bojan, John E. Cook, and Jackson Bailey, appearing at the top of Act II in “The Last Supper.”
Director Foti makes excellent use of the available talent, including tech people and a small band of live musicians, so important to the power behind a rock opera. Music Director Maureen Helms shares keyboard duties with Denise Helms. Steve Shaffer is on bass, Mike Whitney on guitar and Al Miele on drums.
Adding to the sparkle is a group of go-go dancing “Soul Girls”: Emily Foti (choreographer), Stefanie Jump, Kate Fabrizio and Lindsay Cupelo. They are all terrific accompanying Judas in the Vegas-style title number. Kudos to costumer Stacy Ernst.
With the effective use of screen projections, scaffolding, movable stairs and minimalist set pieces, Jeff Envid, John Vrable, Alex Bojan, and Pat Foti have designed and built a set that is spare and evocative.It also offers many more places on the stage to perform than behind the proscenium arch and the apron.
Some people objected to Superstar when it first came out, for a variety of reasons that may seem quaint to the modern theater-goer: the humanizing of someone the faithful are taught to believe is Divine; the notion that Judas was not the monster Christians had been taught to believe him to be, and, of course, the scandalous suggestion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers.
But even more upsetting to the parents and older clergy at my elementary alma mater, just a couple blocks down from where Superstar is being presented, was the end of the play, because it excluded the Resurrection.
Without spoiling it for you, I will just say that Director Foti and his Jesus have found a very clever and uplifting way to elicit some of the same joy that all good Christians are supposed to feel at Easter. I absolutely loved it!
One confession: My little sister is in the production. Therese Bohn is in the ensemble with Lori Grace, Stacy Ernst, Ian Cook, Wendy Germond, Melanie Norton, Josh Mertens, Jada Newman, Bridgitte Ernst and Jessica Hyland. The ensemble here is key to the show’s success, appearing as hippies, lepers, angry mob members and mourners, and the entire company received a standing ovation.
IF YOU GO: There will be performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (April 7 and 8) and at 3 p.m. April 9 at EPAC, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. For tickets, call the box office at 785-8903. Details: Visit http://www.endicottarts.com.