Entertainment » Theatre

Jesus Christ Superstar

by Rachel  Breitman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 19, 2017
Jesus Christ Superstar

The sins of the modern world find a historical and biblical connection in Signature Theatre's latest incarnation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar." The 1970 rock score and modern garments set the story in a time half biblical, half modern, as director Joe Calarco sees his diverse cast of hippies and money lenders as a cross-section of a modern world trying and failing to understand the gospels on a cross-shaped stage.

Additional modern notes occur with a video montage of news footage, from September 11th, flashing back to the Holocaust, forward to the Iraq War, and forward further to the Westboro Baptist Church's protests. The message is clear: in reimagining the biblical story in the modern world, it is clear that humans have learned little in their ability to follow in the footsteps of Christ and have instead profaned his name with violence.

Nicholas Edwards plays Jesus as a man divided, tortured by visions of his death, afraid of a fate that he knows he must pursue. Edwards handles the range of the lead's emotions, hitting most notes with strength, though occasionally appearing frail.

He is well-matched by Ari McKay Wilford as Judas, a bearded guitar-playing rock star of high aspirations and beliefs, who ends up betraying himself and his best friend. Wilford provides a degree of complexity to the Judas character. Is he jealous of Jesus, or does he love his friend so much that he must curse him to die?

Meanwhile, Natascia Diaz shines as Mary Magdalene, his one most devoted follower, who admits in song that she loves the Messiah in his human form, singing "I Don't Know How to Love Him," to two acoustic guitars.

Bobby Smith is cold and calculating as the stoic Pontius Pilate, dressed in a gray business suit like an accountant but with the addition of a crown. Cast as a female, King Herod is embodied by Sherri L. Edelen, who at first seems sympathetic and matronly, but ends up riding the crowd's bloodlust to a fever-pitch.

The crowd of admirers turns quickly to a wild mob demanding his crucifixion, and Karma Camp's choreography allows the cast to slip from venerating Jesus to abusing him almost seamlessly. Set on a circular stage with sliding stones designed by Luciana Stecconi, the use of light design by Jason Lyons creates a sense of transcendent timeless setting, as projectors show images of the Middle East and modern America.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" runs through July 9 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. For tickets or information, call 703-820-9771 or visit sigtheatre.org

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