Theatre — Actorsingers deliver on Superstar

Actorsingers deliver on Superstar

By Michelle Saturley

Bible-inspired musical works well despite the odd weak moment, difficult vocals

 

Jesus Christ Superstar is a challenging show, rarely mounted in New Hampshire community theater. Although it is one of the most popular modern musicals of all time, the vocal demands of the two male leads, Judas and Jesus, can make it a tough sell in amateur theater. Even the most seasoned professional actor can find these two roles intimidating.

The Actorsingers have taken on this difficult project and, for the most part, staged it successfully. Though the show isn’t perfect, it definitely merits a strong “B,” both for the talent involved and the quality of the overall production.

Brian Waldron is vocally amazing as Jesus. Acting-wise, he is at his best when surrounded by his apostles and Mary, imparting advice, hugs and smiles. He even captures the character’s intensity and outrage during the money-changing scene at the temple.

But the second act was difficult for Waldron. He nailed the vocal gymnastics of “Gethsemane,” Jesus’ famous moment of doubt in the garden just before his arrest. But his physical choices during the trial and crucifixion were distracting from the overall action and story on stage. Traditionally, Jesus has his moment of doubt, and then resigns himself to his fate. When Pilate and Herod question him, he is stoic, and does nothing to help himself or to assist his captors in saving him from the angry mob demanding his death. However, Waldron writhed around, looked terrified and chewed the scenery. It was a little too “Passion of the Christ,” and it detracted from the power of the story. When Waldron was hanging on the cross, for example, his movements were distracting to the point of taking away from the sadness and impact of that scene.

With Kevin Roberge’s portrayal of Judas, it was the opposite situation. While Roberge was in touch with the inner turmoil of his character, he struggled with the vocal demands of the role. In my opinion, the role of Judas is more difficult than that of Jesus, both vocally and dramatically. Though Roberge’s voice wasn’t up to the task, he showed a great deal of passion and energy. I’ve seen the actor in other shows where his voice was showcased brilliantly. I’m not sure what happened here. My guess is that he lacked the confidence — though certainly not the ability — needed to pull off the highly stylized rock vocals needed for the part.

Both actors always seemed just on the cusp of breaking through into greatness, but it wasn’t quite there. Still, Roberge and Waldron had a good chemistry together that made the friendship believable and the betrayal all the more heartbreaking.

Newbie director Paul Metzger wrestled with the beast that is an Andrew Lloyd Webber institution and gave it a modern-day makeover. Most fledgling directors would have run screaming in the opposite direction when faced with such a task. The results of his updating are largely positive, but there are some incongruent pieces, and the crucifixion is one of them. If we are to believe that this is the modern-day return of Christ, is it still fitting that he would die on a cross? Obviously, Metzger wanted to retain a sense of biblical wonder, but this rather large detail doesn’t quite fit with his present-day story. Still, Metzger’s take on Judas’ suicide is one of the best things I’ve seen on a community theater stage in years. Expect more high-quality direction to come from Metzger in future productions.

Other standout performances include Jessica Scalese as Mary Magdalene, Jonathan Fisher as Simon Zealotes, Jeffrey Prescott as Pilate, and David Cote as Herod. Scalese has a huge, soulful voice that is well suited for the Mary role. Fisher gave the “Simon Zealotes” song a workout and did a fine job capturing the character’s motivation. Prescott was excellent as Pilate, the conflicted man who puts Jesus to death despite his inner misgivings. His voice was compelling and his acting was in line with his character choices. Cote gave the second act a much-needed jolt of comedy with his ragtime-inspired cakewalk in “Herod’s Song.”

The Actorsingers’ biggest strength has always been their remarkable ensembles (Ragtime comes to mind), and this show was no exception. The twelve apostles and the chorus were wonderful vocally and handled the choreography well. The apostles blended beautifully on “The Last Supper,” while the whole ensemble sounded great on “Hosanna,” “Simon Zealotes Song” and “Trial by Pilate.”

The production crew certainly had their work cut out for them with the updating of the show, but they did a formidable job creating a burned-out urban area, along with a magnificent backdrop for Pilate’s home and Herod’s nightclub. Though the set design was diverse, it was never overly complicated, which is always a smart move in community theater.

The show’s orchestra, led by musical director Julie Oliver-Babb, skillfully set the pace for the show. The guitar work for the crucifixion scene was particularly haunting, as was the trumpet work in “Hosanna.”

I recommend Jesus Christ Superstar, despite some flaws, because it’s overall a strong production, and it may be another decade before another community theater works up the courage to do it again. Don’t miss your chance to see it live. Actorsingers will run the show one more weekend, May 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit actorsingers.org or call 320-1870.

-Michelle Saturley

 
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