Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 8, 2008

Jesus Christ Superstar

Bushnell, Hartford
May 6, 2008
By Bernadette Johnson

There’s something to be said for the tried and true. Doubtless, it was this that led to the choice of Ted Neeley for the lead role in the current tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s timeless rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Neeley, who at age 65 is almost twice the age Jesus was when he died, was nominated for two Golden Globe awards for his groundbreaking performance as Jesus in the 1973 film version and has played Jesus in thousands of performances on and off for decades. A legend is a legend. But is it enough?

It took Neeley a while to hit his stride, his voice a little scratchy and rough during Act I, but he was up to the task in Act II, hitting the high wailing notes of “The Temple” and “Gethsemane,” demonstrating that he still possesses a great vocal range.

JCS standouts included newcomer Corey Glover, lead singer of the rock group Living Colour, in a riveting, heartfelt performance as Judas, and Tiffini Dodson as a tender, solicitous Mary Magdalene. Glover owned the stage from the first notes of “Heaven on their Minds” and never gave it up, culminating his performance with a heart-wrenching “Judas’ Death.”

As Caiaphas, Darrel R. Whitney’s shockingly deep basso profundo tones are rich and ominous, and Craig Sculli is intriguing as Pilate. Adding comic relief is Aaron Fuksa, whose Herod performs his campy routine in multicolored bathrobe and fluorescent Crocs.

Favorite moments included the disciples’ recreation of the poses of DaVinci’s “The Last Supper,” which the audience immediately recognized and reacted to, and the leper scene, where a sea of dark cloth, leaving only hooded heads visible, convulsed and undulated, a writhing mass of suffering humanity.

Strategic lighting (especially beams of white light that appear to trap Judas and prevent him from escaping his guilt), striking audio and visual effects throughout, a simple set (a few platforms and a catwalk bridge), fabric drops, monochromatic costumes, wonderful energy and great sound combine to make this a truly memorable performance.