Jean: When I was given the opportunity to review Jesus Christ Superstar I wasn’t sure I was qualified. The fact is that I am a child of the 60s. However, there is much that happened in the 60s that I was not a part of because I grew up in New Ulm, a small town in southern Minnesota. I have never attended a protest, I have never lived in a commune, I haven’t been to San Francisco, and I had never seen Jesus Christ Superstar. My husband had the soundtrack on reel-to-reel tapes, and we listened to the music often—so I can sing the songs with the best of them. That is why I invited my friend Georgia to attend with me: she has seen Jesus Christ Superstar several times. We were both wondering who would be in the audience tonight. People like us, or a whole new generation? I told one of my students that I was giving up my Twins tickets tonight to go and see Jesus Christ Superstar, and he had no idea what that was!
Jesus Christ Superstar, playing through May 4 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. For tickets ($20-$69) and information, see hennepintheatredistrict.org.
Georgia: I love Superstar! The music, the dramatization of the story, the energy…everything! I bought the album (vinyl!) in 1971 after reading about it in Time magazine. I was intrigued…it was first time that anyone had put a contemporary spin on the last week of Christ’s life in a way that I could relate to. The music and the message humanized all of the people involved. My daughter was born in 1971, and she heard a lot of Superstar while being rocked! I took her to see the 1992 tour with Ted Neeley as Jesus, and the performance was the perfect incarnation of my mind’s interpretation of the music. My daughter was a bit puzzled, though, at the reaction of just about everyone in the audience (including me) because we stood for most of the performance, screaming between numbers—especially at the beginning, when Jesus made his first appearance. She said, “This is like a rock concert!” I agree, Jean: I thought, if there was a generational disconnect in 1992, tonight will really be interesting! I was looking forward to going, but part of me was afraid that it would not duplicate the impact of that first experience. I decided to psych myself up and stay open to the experience!
Jean: Now that I have seen the play I can certainly understand the draw for people. It definitely has the mark of other Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice productions that I have seen—the bare symmetrical set with walkways, stairs, and levels that allowed the actors to create the illusion of change by cleverly choreographed movements, the clever lyrics that mixed the telling of a story of old with modern references, the costumes that mixed the old with the new, and the energetic dance. I have seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat many times, and as soon as the play began I felt the excitement of knowing that I was in for an entertaining evening full of the unexpected. I wasn’t disappointed.
Jean: Just as I settled down and got ready for an evening of enjoyable entertainment, I thought about why I never saw the movie Titanic—I knew how it was going to end, and it wasn’t good.
Georgia: It was just as good as ever, but it was a different experience for me. I guess that nothing can compare with the first time of something that has a huge impact on your life. You can’t completely duplicate it, but you can revisit it and enjoy the experience. The audience was different…although there were a couple of spontaneous joyous outbursts from the audience (when Jesus first appears, and when the disciples form the da Vinci “Last Supper” tableau) and there was appreciative applause after most numbers, the level of participation by the audience was much less than before. I guess that because Superstar was the first of its kind and something that we hadn’t seen before, it inspired more audience participation. I believe that we have seen so many productions since, with so much energy and effects, pushing new boundaries, that it is hard to inspire audience energy. Don’t get me wrong…the audience thoroughly appreciated this performance, that was evident. Although my experience tonight was different, it was still the best theater experience I have had in years—since 1992!
Jean: But, just as I settled down and got ready for an evening of enjoyable entertainment, I thought about why I never saw the movie Titanic—I knew how it was going to end, and it wasn’t good. That is how I felt about Jesus Christ Superstar. At times it felt wrong to have such a serious matter played for laughs. I thought that Herod in his neon blue geometric bathrobe singing to Jesus kneeling before him, taunting him to “prove to me that you are no fool, walk across my swimming pool” was not funny. The scene with Pharoah dressed as Elvis worked in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat because we knew that there would be a happy ending for all of them. That said, I was entertained and I am glad that I had the opportunity to see Ted Neeley in a role that—as Georgia said to me—he owns!
Georgia: Ted Neeley has gotten a bit over the top in some of his scenes…I don’t remember quite so many conversations with his offstage Father before.
Georgia: So we both enjoyed it. I have moved past trying to relive the past. I believe this will be the last time I see Jesus Christ Superstar onstage—I just don’t think Ted Neeley can do it again. He was fantastic tonight, hitting everything the score required, but his voice is showing the strain of 35 years of this role. (And he has gotten a bit over the top in some of his scenes…I don’t remember quite so many conversations with his offstage Father before.) Still, I can’t see anyone else in this part. It is his. I thought that Judas’s voice was shrill at times and difficult to understand, and I didn’t feel the chemistry between he and Jesus. Tiffini Dodson is perhaps the best Mary Magdalene I have seen.
Jean: I believe our recommendation, then, is that you will want to see this production if you can. It is only here for a few days, but not to be missed whether you have seen it before or not.
Jean Gabler is program manager for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas. She is the mother of Daily Planet arts editor Jay Gabler.
Georgia Fisher is assistant dean of undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas.