The Lower Ossington Theatre remounts the timeless Andrew Lloyd Webber 1970s smash-hit rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. There’s a lot happening at the LOT and their ability to continue reviving these mass-followed musicals is always a reason to visit Ossington Avenue. You just can’t get enough of the music and the LOT continually delivers when it comes to the talent, but falls short in the rushed movement this time around.
Audiences around the world were completely swayed when the production originally premiered on Broadway in 1971, buying records and bringing the musical home. Although the rock opera sparked controversy from religious groups, this was not enough to limit the appeal brought upon from Webber and Tim Rice’s classic score. The narrative highlights Jesus Christ’s (Ephraim Ellis) initial rise to fame and quickly propels the action towards his impending death by crucifixion. All of the biblical figures are here from Peter (Phil Skala) and the Apostles to King Herod (Danik McAfee) and Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate (Kit Boulter).
The opening sequence during the Overture was blunt, disorganized and sloppily choreographed. Director, Alan Kinsella's staging during "Could we Start Again Please?" destroyed the sentimentality of one of Webber's most adorned musical pieces to grace the world. The music's focus was displaced by the blocking which caused ruin on such a pivotal prophecy from the production. Although negative, there was also much good that followed.
Returning strong after his title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch is Ephraim Ellis as Jesus. Ellis gives a strong performance, both vocally and emotionally, however his presence is undershadowed by the lack of a powerfully supporting Judas (Andrew Perry). For this rock musical to be successful, the spheres of good and evil need to be equally balanced. Perry was unable to deliver an emotionally gripping performance. While Perry certainly proved his vocal ability at times, his inability to belt out songs often devalued the score and essence of the musical during reputable numbers - of them "Heaven on their Minds," "Damned for All Time/Blood Money," "The Last Supper," and "Judas' Death."
Where Judas failed, Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Martin) undoubtedly picked up the broken pieces. Martin charmed audiences with her voice but was unable to foster the demanding, albeit meek persona of Mary in one sweeping lead, blending with the chorus all too often. Kit Boulter displayed immense strength in the role of Pilate accompanied by Amaka Umeh's soulful performance of "Simon Zealotes." With the two meager leads of Judas and Mary, you can always count on the LOT’s power of ensemble to collaborate and uphold the timeless score and sentiment of the production. This was ultimately upheld by the power and remastering of the orchestra to minimally update the style, fitting with the contemporary mood brought upon by Robyn MacDonald, Michael Galloro and Mikael Kangas’ tremendous design.
Scenic designers Michael Galloro and Mikael Kangas employ an effective unitary design that is both impressive and technologically current. The balance and leveling of simpler elements added strong emphasis throughout just as Robyn MacDonald’s costume design worked to contemporarily harmonize the timelessness of this musical. Kangas’ lighting design was on-point, striking extreme contrast and giddy enjoyment during the campier moments of the musical. The design in itself is reason enough to make your trip down to the LOT before this engagement once again comes to a close.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs to Jan. 17 at the Lower Ossington Theatre. For more information, visit www.LowerOssingtonTheatre.com.