‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ great musically but lacks in drama

Of course, many in the packed house at Proctors on Tuesday night came to see if sexagenarian Ted Nee

Of course, many in the packed house at Proctors on Tuesday night came to see if sexagenarian Ted Neeley still has the vocal chops for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Rest assured, he does, even when he must judiciously use his falsetto in certain passages.

And he’s surrounded by a fine young cast of singers, all of whom, under Michael Mitchell’s musical direction, recreate the ’70s score so near and dear to middle-aged hearts.

What does not work in this production, however, is the drama.

While some scenes are suffused with vocal tension, director Dallett Norris has not demanded much in terms of acting, and that flatness is evident in the very first scene, “Heaven on Their Minds.” Corey Glover, as Judas, has a splendid voice, but he wanders aimlessly around the two-tiered set, seldom looking up and out.

Elsewhere, members of the chorus, all of whom look very clean and spiffy in costumes hardly suggestive of a rabble, hug each other, pat each other’s arm with concern about the goings-on in Bethany and Jerusalem and move in a stylized fashion.

It’s a shame, because Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music has some real rawness to it, and Tim Rice’s lyrics (despite quaint phrases like “I couldn’t cope”) still have punch.

However, there are a number of felicitous moments in this production that tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. For example, Tiffini Dodson, as Mary Magdalene, does right by her two big numbers, “Everything’s Alright” and, especially, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” where she captures this young prostitute’s ambivalence toward men.

The whole company seems to feel “Could We Start Again, Please,” a simply staged number in Act II that despairs at the inevitability of Jesus’ fate.

Craig Sculli superbly evokes Pilate’s bewilderment and rage at his ordained part in the proceedings.

The King Herod scene, starring Aaron Fuksa, is welcome comic relief (as is the da Vinci wink in the “Last Supper” number), but Fuksa masterfully seasons that humor with malevolence.

Finally, Ted Neeley gives one the same satisfaction you receive when you say you’ve seen Julie Harris do Emily Dickinson and Hal Holbrook do Mark Twain. All three performers depict characters much younger than they are, but they’ve lived so long in their skins that they know how to adjust their performances to their years.

Occasionally I missed an edge to Neeley’s performance; at times, it seemed too cautious.

But his “Gethsemane” is a complete tour de force. In this one long scene, Neeley’s voice and acting brilliantly depict the agony of Jesus, the man, the obedient man who alternately rails against his mission and yields to God’s wisdom. Neeley paces the outbursts and reflections with utter credibility.

And, of course, the scene of Jesus’ ascension is a theatrical marvel.

It’s satisfying on many counts, then, and maybe the music alone will be enough to carry you over the dry patches.Jesus Christ Superstar

WHERE: Proctors Mainstage, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: Through April 10

HOW MUCH: $55-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204

Categories: Life and Arts

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