Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Fred Anzevino
Music Direction by Jeremy Ramey
Choreographer by Brenda Didier
At No Exit Cafe, Chicago
Who said you couldn’t produce a rock opera in an intimate cafe?
I have never been an avid fan of rock operas because they tend to be over produced, with singers screaming to be heard, thus producing mostly unintelligible lyrics. Not so in a Fred Anzevino production. Together with the deft music direction by Jeramey Ramey, the creatives at Theo Ubique have mounted an intense, intimate, and totally engrossing rock opera. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s acoustic Jesus Christ Superstar is an opera filled with pop/rock and R & B tunes.
Director Fred Anzevino’s production is filled with fine, articulate voices that, without amplification, were easily heard despite a deft four piece orchestra. The singers enunciated each lyric with deep emotions, proving that rock songs can be understood with skilled singers. Webber’s rock opera works well in the No Exit space as audiences are inches away from the performers.
Jesus Christ Superstar is , of course, the story of Jesus Christ taken from John’s New Testament. That is presented as neither too religious nor blasphemous toward Christianity. It is a tasteful opera that quickly engages us as we join the joyous journey of Jesus toward his destiny.
The youthful cast of 14 is lead by the star turn from newbie Max DeTogne as Jesus. He has the charismatic smile and golden tenor pipes that reach the heavens as his falsetto reaches counter-tenor range. His angst is deeply emotional as he nails “Gethsemane.” This young man anchors the opera with his charm and controlled intensity.
DeTogne’s Jesus has a rival in the outstanding rich vocal chops from Donterrio Johnson who sings Judas in an intense R & B. The fabulous Danni Smith sweetly exudes the warmth in “Everything’s Alright” with Jesus, Judas, and the Disciples. Smith renders a wonderful interpretation of the anthem “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” She give that song a deeper meaning than most.
Jesus Christ Superstar has fine voices in all the key roles. Ryan Armstrong’s Pilate, Tommy Bullington’s Herod, Jonah D. Winston’s Caiphas together with Michael Ferraro’s Peter, Caleb Baze’s Simon, and Will Wilhelm’s Annas each contributed yeomen performances making Theo Ubique’s Superstar into a stellar production.
This show has loads of heart, swift pacing and slick staging, that together with the fabulous harmonies and rich solos makes for a stunning opera. This production of the 1971 rock opera has become the standard for the genre. We’ll be hard pressed to witness a finer cast that respectfully dedicated themselves to presenting this classic rock opera with gusto.
Yes, indeed, Fred Anzevino has found a way to create a wonderful rock opera. He gets help from Jeremy Remey and Brenda Didier’s choreography. This is a moving production – don’t miss it.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
For more info checkout the Jesus Christ Superstar page at theatreinchicago
At No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, www.theo-u.org, tickets $39 – $43, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through April 12, 2015