Stage 62’s Jesus Christ Superstar, with Jeff Way (center) as Jesus
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
continues through Sun., July 31. Stage 62 at Andrew Carnegie Free Library Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. $15-20. 412-429-6262 or stage62.com
As someone pointed out, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you can get what you need. And if you’re as clever about it as the folks at Stage 62 with their production of Jesus Christ Superstar, people might not want anything else.
Here’s a secret about community theater. At times it can be difficult rounding up all the male performers you need … doubly so for a musical. I don’t know if that’s the reason behind a few of director Seamus Ricci’s casting choices, but it could be why we get a female Judas, Annas and Simon.
But here’s the thing — it absolutely doesn’t matter. For starters, it’s theater and it’s, you know, not real. If you can buy a Caucasian Jesus, a female Iscariot is no biggie. More to the point, Ricci thankfully just cast the best singers for the roles; if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have heard Mary Johnson-Blocher rip through Judas’ numbers with a powerhouse voice and dynamic theatrical presence. Larissa Jantonio’s Annas is as oily, and expertly sung, as any I’ve seen, and Anna Gergerich’s Simon is a high-energy delight.
None of which detracts from the “normally” casted performers: Nina Napoleone’s gorgeous and beautifully warm voice gives depth to Mary Magdalene’s numbers; Jeff Danner is downright creepy as Caiaphas; and Matthew J. Rush’s Pilate is a moving portrayal of a man stretched to breaking.
Appropriately holding the center is Jeff Way in a thrilling performance as Jesus; his full-frontal attack on “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” is a small masterpiece.
Ricci, along with musical director Thomas Octave, has created one of the most impeccably sung productions of Superstar I’ve seen, and Ricci’s casting is without flaw.
On a conceptual level, he needs to do a little more work. Visually, it’s a woefully cluttered and nonsensical mess. You don’t plop a giant raked platform down front, forcing the cast to endlessly climb on and off and up and down to reach center stage. Honestly, I felt like I was at a step-aerobics class.
Ultimately, however, even that doesn’t matter. Just close your eyes and bask in those glorious voices.