Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through November 21, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s modern rock-opera masterpiece “Jesus Christ Superstar” is electrifyingly staged by Exit 7 Players. Directed by Paul DiProto, it perfectly balances the epic and intimate moments of the greatest story ever told.
DiProto sets the final days of Jesus in the 21st century during the recent Occupy Wall Street events. Jesus’ followers tweet against corporate greed. A slideshow depicts images of the disenfranchised with those of Gandhi. et al. Placards that read “People not Profits” and “Occupy Everywhere” underscore this theme.
Although JCS is Jesus’ story, Judas’ inner conflict is equally compelling. Paula Cortis’ Judas’ internal suffering in “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Damned for All Time” show the conflict between the character’s loyalty to Jesus and fulfillment of the gospel. Cortis displays both superb vocals and shattering dramatic power. Wearing combat-like fatigues, she is the militant counterpoint to Jesus’ pacifism.
David Wallace is perfect as Jesus. From the musical’s opening to the very end, Wallace convinces the audience of Jesus’ suffering especially in the show-stopping “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).” Wallace’s Jesus demonstrates both fear of death and a quest for answers.
The villains of the piece are played with menacing aplomb by Justin W. Smith, Erin Wallace, Gene Choquette, and Ryan Bird as, respectively, Caiaphas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod. Choquette’s velvet-voiced Pilate, Wallace’s champagne-swilling Annas, and Smith’s stone-coldness, exude evil in their solos. The amusing, Vegas-style “King Herod’s Song” is performed with devilish-delight by Bird.
Nikki Wadleigh’s Mary Magdalene is purity incarnate. Her arias “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” are underscored by Cliff Schofer’s flute and Kevin Barker’s percussion. Unfortunately, these iconic songs are placed down-stage right, making visibility difficult. Wadleigh’s duet with Peter (Michael Garcia) “Could We Start Again, Please?” provides a welcome reflective moment .
The 13-member ensemble is completely invested throughout. Their versatility is commendable. The guitar, bass, and synthesizer of Scott Sasanecki, Sheri Jyringi, Bill Martin, and Michael Rhealt blend well with the actors. Musical director Bill Martin, choreographer Melissa Dupont, lighting designer Frank Croke, costumer Judy Hemingway, and Croke and Mike Crowther’s set create a polished production.
Lloyd Webber’s 70’s classic may be familiar, but Exit 7’s current production proves that everything old is new again.