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Jesus Christ Superstar Reigns

presented by DOMA Theatre Company

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Jesus Christ Superstar is a great show. Lyrics by Tim Rice, and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and for my money its Webber’s best.

It had something none of his shows would ever have again.

Controversy.

Rice and Webber’s rock opera, empathizing Jesus’ interpersonal struggles with his disciples against a background of the political intriguing that lead him to his death on Cavalry, began as a concept album in 1970.

In July of 1971, the first concert performance was presented at the Pennsylvania’s Civic Arena with Jeffrey Fenholt, a heavy metal singer, as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas. Thirteen thousand attended.

In October of the same year JCS opened on Broadway, again with Fenholt in the lead and Ben Vereen, veteran of the Great White Way, as Judas.

From the start the New York production drew heavy in-coming.

Christians criticized its depiction of a Jesus more “humanist” than “holy.” Some took offense to the handling of Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, some to the sympathetic portrayal of Judas, and others just found it blasphemous, including the entire country of South Africa, still under the Apartheid rule, which banned it as “irreligious.”

Go figure.

Jewish organizations also took issue with the show, feeling the “interpretation” of Caiaphas and the governing body of high priests gave support to the anti-Semitic notion of their having responsibility for Jesus’ death.

Despite the backlash and mixed reviews, JCS was nominated for five Tony Awards, none of which it would win, and managed to run for 711 performances finally closing in 1973.

Ted Neeley and Anderson, who were both with the show as understudies, went on to star in the 1974 Norman Jewison film version.

The hard drinking rocker Fenholt would find religion himself, become born again, and wind up as a familiar face on the conservative (some might say crackpot) Trinity Broadcast Network. In 1994 Fenholt penned his autobiography, From Darkness to Light, revealing details of his childhood abuse and misspent life of drugs and sex before finding “Jesus.”

In 1995 his parents sued him.

All in all many admirers of JCS were disappointed with the Broadway production, and topping that list was Webber himself who denounced the show as “a vulgar travesty.” However the Webber and Rice rock opera remained hugely popular with audiences.

Neely and Anderson, who became friends while filming the movie of the musical, appeared together in a number of revivals and concert performances, and there would be further stage productions world wide.

According to Webber the best of those was a 1996 Japanese staging, featuring Takeshi Kaga as Jesus. Kaga would later go on to host a popular cooking show on Japanese TV, Ryōri no Tetsujin. Or as it’s known to English speaking audiences The Iron Chef.

jcss-1.JPGNow the Doma Theatre Company that little powerhouse off Santa Monica Boulevard has tried their hand at staging “the singing savior.”
Like all their productions, it is a solid show ideally suited for lovers of musical theater, especially those on limited budgets.

Director Marco Gomez can be applauded for not following the standard pathways of staging and casting in attempting to brush away the cobwebs that tend to gather on any “classic.”

Nate Parker and Jeremy Saje are solid as Jesus and Judas respectively.

Andrew Diego faces some challenges vocally but his off kilter interpretation of Caiaphas as a Clockwork Orange alumnus is quite entertaining.
Graham Kurtz’s Simon and Blair Grotbeck’s Peter show some exceptional work, but you walk away from the evening with the voice of Kelly Brighton ringing in your ears who nearly steals the show with his Pontius Pilate.

If you’ve never seen the show, be forewarned, when it comes to Jesus Christ Superstar there are two very distinct camps: those who love it and those who hate it.

If you’re one of those capable of appreciating the soaring songs and the insightful rendering offered by Webber and Rice’s rock opera you won’t be disappointed by this staging at Doma.

And if you happen to be one of those that takes umbrage over the tone and tunes of the show, well then maybe you oughta turn off the damn 500 Club and take a crack at actually reading the Bible.

Just a suggestion.

♦    ♦    ♦

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR  –  DOMA Theatre Company
At the MET Theatre 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles
Feb. 13–March 22, 2015 Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: $20-34.99; (323) 802-9181
Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes, including intermission

For tickets and information, please visit:  www.DOMATheatre.com

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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