REVIEW: ‘Nothing little’ about Burien Little Theatre’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’!
by Shelli Park
Who is this man, this Jesus Christ, who claims himself to be the Son of God? Who is this Superstar? God, himself? Just a man? A fraud?
Last night, I was immersed in the amazingly dramatized interpretation of the last days of Jesus life, Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), and played by an all-female cast directed by Steve Cooper. This is the latest production by Burien’s community theater gem, Burien Little Theatre.
There is nothing little about this production. With all of the effort to put on quality productions, BLT definitely deserves a bigger and better theatre. The set, costumes, music, and those voices baptize you in a world that has a foot rooted in the past and which toys with the future.
The scene is filled with vines which threaten to overtake the stage. The feeling is dark, and slightly ominous, with a dramatic lighting design (by Dave Baldwin). The dusty purple splashed on the upper sides of the stage is very biblical. Accents of vine-covered chain-link fence grace stage right and left. A rusted out, beat up car is slowly being swallowed up by Nature. (Set painted by Nathan Rodda, and dressed by Nathan Rodda, Cyndi Baumgardner.)
Archangels of funk hover behind the action in high and mighty musical glory. The amazing band, whose musicians are obviously accomplished, is directed by the multi-talented Heather MacLaughlin Garbes. She has a firm grasp on the world created by Rice and Lloyd Webber, and leads a tight performance. The guitar player plays amazing effects with his instrument. They add so much to the dread and sense of the surreal near the end.
Many know the story of Jesus’ last days from the Bible. It is a story filled with love, anger, rebellion, betrayal, and government that is threatened by Truth. It is a powerful story. Jesus Christ Superstar teases out the personal relationships, taking the story out of mythology and bringing it down to the human level. So many complicated relationships. And what is all of the excitement about, anyways?
I like that the questions are never really answered.
Jesus (Sophia Federighi), who, bless her heart, was fighting a cold still does an amazing job! Her role could have very easily dipped into caricature, but her heart and soul is in it. Federighi can just as easily spread the goodness and brotherly love as she can convey the insecurity and suffering of the man so many put on a pedestal. Jesus is, in the end, put on a cross. The flogging and crucifixion scenes are well played and intense. Federighi’s talent is obvious and admirable. (The soldier who pierces Jesus’ side needs to do so with a lot more conviction. It was far too delicate.)
Judas, Judas, Good Ole Judas. So conflicted in her convictions. Judas is played by Michelle Flowers and has an amazing voice that, and I may be wrong, sounds rooted in old school punk rock. She fits the role of this soldier/apostle who wants to believe in the man, the Son of God, come to save us (can he save her?). Her conflict with the reformed prostitute Mary Magdalene (Ashley Coates) is palpable. Judas is at once jealous of Jesus and of Mary’s place in Jesus’ life.
Ashley Coates also plays Herod in Pilate’s court. She jumps from playing the calm, soothing comforter of Jesus to the riotous vamp who toys with Jesus in such a beseeching and mocking way. Coates’ physical tragicomedy is blessed. This performance was a highlight of the evening. Coates is one of my favorite BLT actors.
I am in love with Caiaphas’s (Shaina Ward Siegel) head. I have been enamored with shaved heads with and without mohawk since my lovely sister had one in the 90’s, and Siegal’s head is beautiful. So is her deep, lovely, menacing voice. She plays the perfect dark-side politician interested in solidifying the interests of state. She knows a threat to power when she sees one. And this Jesus problem needs to be taken care of.
Which leads us to the conflicted politician supreme, Pilate (Heather Ward). Ward’s poignantly portrays the conflict she feels in sentencing the man whom she admires and fears. But fear of losing her job leads her to cave to the pressure to sentence Jesus to death. She relents. The journey through the emotions is skillfully played out and I was left with a feeling of admiration at Ward’s solid performance. This is one of the best performances of the evening.
I musn’t forget the great dance number near the end! The contemporary, club-infected style mixed into the liturgical dance is wonderful. The ladies moved well together, and brought pizzazz to Judas’ heavenly lament.
My only concerns with this production are with the lack of clear enunciation of the ensemble, and some weaker choices in costuming. There were large swaths of lyric that I didn’t at all understand, which was frustrating. Some of that was a tech issue which was remedied, and some was an issue that will, hopefully, get better with practice. The strong actors in the ensemble are just strong enough to carry actors with work to do, but the ensemble as a whole needs to dig deep to ground itself as a group in the gravity of the drama. This is the type of production that could easily become a farce.
The (wo)man Jesus stands in the spotlight of history, and on the Burien Little Theatre stage, waiting for new reflection. Who was this man? The conflict which regional politics and religion can cause; these are certainly things to consider as one is bathed in the light and sounds of a Holy Roller theatre production.
Jesus Christ Superstar opens tonight (Friday, Feb. 15) and runs through March 24. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
For tickets or information, go online to www.burienlittletheatre.org or call the ticket office at 206-242-5180.
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Burien Little Theatre
14501 Fourth Ave. S.W.
Burien, WA 98166
(Intersection of 4th Ave SW and SW 146th Street; parking lot entrance on Fourth)
Directions available under “Find Us” at www.burienlittletheatre.org).
TO PURCHASE TICKETS
Show tickets may be purchased online at www.burienlittletheatre.org or call 206-242-5180.