Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed & Choreographed by Stacey Flaster
Music Direction by Williams A. Underwood
At the Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN
Superstar unveils another superstar = Max Quinlan
Featuring ambitious production values – large scale set (designed by Christopher Ash) and stellar lighting (design by Tim Fandrei) and excellently blended sound (designed by Barry G. Funderburg) with stirring music from William A. Underwood’s six person orchestra – Jesus Christ Superstar has the look, sound and feel of a grand opera!
Director/Choreographer Stacey Flaster- who specializes in turning thread-barren musicals into fresh remounts – has done it again with Superstar. This stunning production moves swiftly, has loads of heart as it contains energy and emotional intensity equal to it’s billing as “the greatest story ever told.”
I must admit that I’m not a great lover of Superstar due to its pop/rock elements and its completely sung through rock style. However, Flaster’s casting and the skillful enunciation by the principle singers together with a blend of high-energy staging and haunting dramatization of Christ’s final days made this production of Superstar and explosive journey of redemption for me.
It starts with Max Quinlan as Jesus Christ. Quinlan exudes charisma, warmth and subtle stage presence. He has that gently demeanor yet he is totally in command of his disciples. Quinlan, bearded, looks at peace. He has never sounded better that with Rice and Webber’s songs. We hear his tenor soar into falsetto reaching to the heavens as his rage erupts at the temple.
Joe Tokarz is the other main character in Superstar as Judas-the troubled disciple destined to betray Jesus. Tokarz’s strong tenor aptly introduces and narrates much of the story. Audrey Billings’ “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the show’s best song, was sung with a moving reverence and full clarity.
The ensemble work and dances far exceed most productions of Superstar I’ve seen. Flaster had the disciples/followers in causal modern dress while the Pharisees and the priests wore period garments (almost dresses) with large awkward headdresses. An interesting choice.
What makes this production sizzle is the work of Max Quinlan in act two as he must reach down into his gut to get us to sympathize and care about Jesus – the Superstar. Quinlan sure does that with the jaw-dropping, emotional draining “Gethsemzne – The Garden. ” Many in the audience were quite moved with that song. Jon Cunningham sings Peter’s Denial convincingly while Steve Genovese is a hoot as King Harod. The tune “King Herod’s Song” was a comic, satirical mock of Harod as Genovese, in white face, together with as assortment of clowns renders the King as a fool. Nice work there.
High emotions prevail as the Crucifixion is marvelously staged giving the opera a tragic conclusion. This production is respectful to religion as its artistic choices emphasize the “superstar” cult of personality rather than a religious text. It is done with exquisite taste and loads of heart. Joe Tokatz and Max Quinlan sing their hearts out. Jesus Christ Superstar never played so strong to me. Stacey Flaster has a feel for mounting fresh, vibrant musicals and now an opera. Maybe, she’ll get a gig at the Lyric Opera of Chicago like Gary Griffin and Barbara Gaines have? Just give her a troubled opera for her to revive. She creates magic on stage.
At the Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN, call 219-836-3255, www.theatreatthecenter.com, Wednesdays 7 Thursdays at 2 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays & Sundays matinees at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.