I had such high hopes for the Lyric Opera’s Jesus Christ Superstar. I was too young to see the show when it first came out. I’m pretty sure I never saw the 1973 movie either though I knew a couple of the songs. The Lyric has high standards so I didn’t feel I had to lower expectations. On Wednesday two performers were interviewed on Chicago Tonight, our local PBS news program and that whetted my appetite for a good show. However, I recommend you save your money. The song above is the best part of the show.
The show started off fine showing a bunch of Jesus’ devotees singing and dancing. Clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were offering a modernized telling of the end of the gospels. But when Jesus took the stage, he seemed rather lackluster. He wore cool clothes and had a hip hairstyle, but under that he was bland. He clearly enjoyed the fame, which isn’t what Jesus was about. Yet the title clues us into that’s the creators’ theme.
The show itself only had two songs I remembered liking and that didn’t change after seeing this production. Many of the songs were just loud and it was hard to make out the lyrics. I agreed with the two women behind me in line for the loo during intermission that the acting was weak. The emphasis was on singing and dancing with just no characterization. In Act Two the dancing was a let down because the choreography was so similar to Act One.
There’s a lot of odd choices in this production. For example, in one number the dancers all hold crosses, but this is happening well before Jesus was condemned to die on the cross. There’s no reason anyone would use a cross as a symbol of Jesus before he’s called in front of Pilate.
The Israel of this production has a hint of dystopia as the citizens all wear drab grays and gender is not marked much in dress or personal style. I was confused in Act II about who was the person in a golden bird costume. It wasn’t till he disrobed to let out his inner hedonist that I guessed it was Herod.
From the Chicago Tonight interview, I learned that this production uses 90 pounds of glitter. (They use a lot of glitter, but it could be 90 pounds worth by the end of the run.) The first time they use it, the shimmer and glow makes sense. Mary Magdalene, who most agree wasn’t the same woman who poured oil over Jesus when he was at a dinner, empties a jar of what is oil over Jesus and it was cool that glitter was used. Later when Jesus is being beaten the men beating him whip him with handfuls of glitter. That was just odd — too much of a good thing.