Peter Brynes (left, from front), Paul Rossetti, Nina Ogasawara, Judy Rose and Alex Patterson rehearse along with the choir for Valley Vocal Arts and Big Apple Productions’ performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, which staged at Vernon’s Trinity Unted Church March 3 and 4. Image credit: Lisa Mazurek/Morning Star

Theatre Review: Singing to the heavens

Jesus Christ Superstar at Vernon’s Trinity United had us all singing hallelujah

It’s not everyday you get to rock along with a 70-member choir and a 10-piece band in church (except for that gospel choir I saw in Atlanta once, but that’s another story), but this past weekend’s performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at Vernon’s Trinity United had us all singing hallelujah.

I’ve so many songs stuck in my head thanks to Big Apple Productions, Valley Vocal Arts, and the big guy himself, that being Andrew Lloyd Webber.

It didn’t matter if you were Christian, Muslim, Jew, gentile, atheist, or just plain undecided, the show was as much about the music as it was the story, which is a relevant one.

It’s basically about a man who shuns celebrity and only wants to do good, but is betrayed by those close to him and then punished because of fear, and those darn Romans.

Told more in a concert forum than that of a stage musical, you couldn’t help but hum along with the packed audience that practically overflowed into the church’s narthex.

Now you’d think a show that’s about Jesus and his apostles and his last days before the crucifixtion would be a bit of a bummer (anyone catch The Passion of the Christ?). However, those who have seen JCSS, whether in a theatre (the musical made its Broadway debut in 1971 and is still staged to this day) or in the film version directed by Canada’s Norman Jewison in 1973, knows that this is a rock opera of epic proportions.

Those who loved The Who’s Tommy, or the more recent American Idiot by Green Day, would be as enamored by these powerful songs, written by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice way back in 1970.

Their music reached up to the heavens thanks to the show’s many glorious voices, led by choir director Lana O’Brien and music director Melina Moore, and that aforementioned rockin’ band led by Jim Leonard.

Judy Rose, as a female Judas Iscariot, has such a powerful voice the cosmonauts likely heard her on the International Space Station, and Paul Rossetti, as Jesus, is a revelation.

His was a truly inspired and beautiful performance that erupted with such emotion, his powerful cries could be felt by even the most hardened soul.

Just as effective in relating emotion was Nina Ogasawara as Mary Magdalene. Her anguish while singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him was palpable. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to wipe away a few tears.

The rest of the main cast gave note-perfect performances. Craig Howard as Pontius Pilate, Brian Martin as Caiaphas, Alex Patterson as Annas, Ethan Swift as Simon, Jax Dolman as King Herrod, and Don Cecile as Peter should really start their own Greek chorus, and leading them should be the harmonious Soul Girls, whose voices were angelic.

The show also featured a multi-media component, with two screens showing images to accompany the theatrics. This included blood splatters to show the 39 lashes Christ endured at the hands of Pontius Pilate. There was also a laser light show, which danced along the ceiling of the church, I believe to represent the will of God.

All this was unnecessary, in my opinion, as the music was powerful and emotional enough to hold our attention without fancy effects.

As Moore put in in her program notes, “Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge, and explosive theatricality.”

And to her, I say amen.

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