Jesus Signal

Jesus Christ Superstar...the first one

Over the next three weeks I will be seeing Jesus Christ Superstar THREE times. Yes, you read that correctly. I'll be seeing it twice at Hart House and once at the Lower Ossington Theatre. Let me just clarify this scenario for newbies to my blog, the one most primal law in my household = if there is a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in Toronto, or within reasonable proximity to the downtown Toronto core, I must attend it…at least once. JCS is the epitome of musical theatre for me. So when Hart House Theatre announced their 2014/15 season playbill and JCS was listed, I was pretty much elated. Yes, I know Hart House isn’t exactly Mirvish or Stratford who go all out with their theatre budget but for the most part I usually prefer seeing plays at Hart House. Hart House performances are well worth the extremely nominal fee they charge and the performances are pretty much on par with the far more pricey and elaborate counterparts out there. In fact, this year’s other two productions – The Importance of Being Earnest and The Tempest – were the two best plays I’ve seen in within the past few years and possibly the best productions ever at Hart House Theatre. And then came JCS. Wow…there are no words. Brilliant. Granted IMO nothing will top the Eric Kunze tour of JCS circa mid 2000s… but this one is arguably second best. What is truly amazing is that most of these actors are making their HH debuts. In fact, Aaron Williams, who has taken on what I consider to be the lead role = Judas, is making his theatrical debut…period. From the moment he started into the first verse of Heaven on the Minds I knew he was made to sing Superstar…and I was correct. I’d argue that he was even better than Josh Young performing that song. What an amazing range Aaron has. My only criticism is that his voice may be too strong…is that even a criticism? Josh still wins as the best overall Judas to date though. Josh was epic.

David Michael Moote played that other lead character…and well I have to just say this first off, he was the most attractive Jesus this side of, well, Eric Kunze. Picture a combo of Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund and add a dash of theHemsworths and that’s what you’d get. Yep, he is that good. His looks were only icing on the cake though since he actually could sing. Granted he wasn’t quite on par with Eric or Ted Neely (who is??) but for what it was worth he did a respectable job with Gethsemene and I’m certain he’ll get a better feel for it as the production continues.

As for the rest of the cast, Claire Hunter as Mary was all right. I’m not a fan of this character in general though. I think my favourite JCS Mary was in the most recent London arena production. I can’t say as I loved Mel C. in the part, but I did enjoy the spin the director put on the Mary character. Anyhow, in the HH production, Mary was not really visible enough…she didn’t seem to play as important a role as she could and should have. That said, Claire Hunter had a lovely voice for the intimate setting and I enjoyed her I Don’t Know How to Love Him. This may have been the first time I’ve seen a Simon (played by Harold Lumilan) who actually could simultaneously sing AND dance during the Simon Zealotes routine. Normally they just get away with the singing portion and leave the dancing to the chorus. And on that note, excellent choreography overall in this production. With such a large cast it is quite surprising they were able to fit such strong and all –encompassing dance routines onto that tiny stage. Hmm who else…well the Sanhedrin, they seemed less prominent than usual. Caiaphas and Annas are usually quite memorable but their roles didn’t seem to stand out for me this time round. Not bad, just not memorable. I was surprised to see Jeremy Hutton as Pilate. Perhaps, pleased would be the better choice of words. Sidenote: Jeremy Hutton directed what I consider to be the most ACCURATE production of Jesus Christ Superstar (Toronto Youth Theatre – circa late 2000s) – the one closest to my own personal take on the play and the passion story itself. Jeremy’s production featured a FEMALE Judas (the three-way storyline between Jesus/Judas/Mary was far more distinctive given this approach) and also presented us with a sublime version of the truly self-tormented Roman governor Pilate (my favourite Pilate to date). Given his history and insights into the play and particularly into the role of Pilate, I expected a lot from Jeremy…not so much for the singing, more for the acting. His Trial by Pilate was inspiring and it was a nice touch by the director to have Pilate on stage for the final notes of John 19:41. Another coup for this production – Saphire Demitro as Herod. She was utterly charming as the spoiled princess revelling in her power over her swarm of sycophants. I couldn’t help but laugh at the parallels to a number of self-important post-teen popstars and reality show divas.

All in all – production was great. The music was fab. The score was a little too loud at times…not that that is a bad thing, it’s just that sometimes the musicians were overpowering the vocals and with this good a cast I wanted to hear every note. I enjoyed the flute and the violin pieces that they chose to add in at just the right times. Again the cast were all great vocally but as for acting I think they are all just getting the feel for their parts. After all, it was only the second performance. I’ll be returning at the end of the month and I expect that by then the cast will have fully matured into their characters. I am hoping to see a bit more emo – especially during my two fav songs – Heaven on their Minds and Gethsemene. They were good this time around but they have the potential to really knock it out of the park once they really get into character.

For JCS fans and, for that matter, all fans of theatre, this production is a must-see and I can say with certainty it is the finest production I have attended at Hart House Theatre.

(Side note: I really should list out all the productions of JCS that I have attended...I'm guessing I must have seen it at least ten different productions...)
  • Current Location: My library
  • Current Mood: artistic artistic
  • Current Music: JCS soundtrack...of course
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JCSS = made of amazing! How can one not love this musical?

I only recently realized that the production of JCSS we saw with Eric Kunze was in 2005...wow 10 years ago O_O. I can't believe it was that long ago...seems like 5 (ok in my head I sang that to the tune at the end of The Temple song lol)

Best play/musical ever...it's that simple.

Wow...2005...it does seem more like about 5-7 years ago. Still, it set the bar for JCS.