Though 50 years old, “Jesus Christ Superstar” still has relevance along with a dose of splendor, without showing its old age.
Diamond Head Theatre’s revival, which opened Friday and continues through April 24, is a mix of the modern and the traditional, embracing the “rock opera” facet of theatrical genres, wholly sung as in an opera, not recited or spoken.
The show has a checkered history but has roots tied to a Honolulu singer-guitarist from Roosevelt High School, Yvonne Elliman, who became a global star first as the Mary Magdalene character on a concept album, then as the female centerpiece in the retelling of events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, initially in the breakout movie and then in the subsequent Broadway production. Till today, Elliman generally is the best known among the early “Superstar” performing circle.
The DHT endeavor, directed and choregraphed by John Rampage, DHT’s artistic director, has a trio of reliable lead troupers – Aleks Pevec as Jesus, Bailey Barnes as Mary, and Taj Gutierrez as Judas Iscariot – who make the show soar. They are all locals, with Pevec as the only one with Actors Equity Broadway creds, and his vocal prowess in delivery radiates and illuminates; and while only Gutierrez is a fanciful dancer, all three have logged previous local musical credits leading to this production.
The tale, exploring the last seven days of Jesus’ life through the vision of Judas, one of his disciples, in an alternating love-hate/loyalty-betrayal relationship that includes notable conflicting sentiments and a peck-on-the-cheek by Judas to Jesus. Further, Judas sings a smidgin of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” regarding the crucifixion and complexities of friendship. The mix of Christianity and Judaism prevails, so yes, this one has an empowerful religious dose.
The score, by the eminent Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), includes several enduring hit songs (“Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” both delivered with warmth and expression by Barnes), and “Superstar” (led by Gutierrez and the ensemble). Pevec’s presence and power punctuate “What’s the Buzz,” “Hosanna,” “Gethsemane” and “The Temple,” showing off his pedigree, with able assistance from the ensemble.
Larry Paxton, veteran DHT leading man, appears as the regal Pontius Pilate, the governor, sharing his grandeur through his voice but dons “period” robes. Costumed in Karen G. Wolfe’s eye-filling red creation, with one kimono-length left sleeve and a golden vest, perhaps makes a fashion statement as the wardrobe “moment” in the show.
So you know in advance, a pair of traditional gender-bending secondary male characters/roles are credibly portrayed by Aiko Schick (King Herod) and Jody Bill (Simon Zealotes).
Movement is frequent and varied here; early on, Rampage’s expansive choreography borrows from ballet and hip-hop and more, and he injects an element of vaudeville and Broadway late into the show, during the supposed dream elements of Judas’ Prince-like prancing in fringed sleeves, fronting a trio of “Dreamgirls” in sequined, showy gowns. Score yet another triumph for costumer Wolfe.
Roslyn Catracchia, musical director, makes her seven-member combo sound double its size, handling the pumped-rock tempos and more melodic numbers with equal gusto and flair; the climactic laments, matching the chants and chiming of the ensemble, are properly eerie and discomforting to fit the prevailing mood.
Dawn Oshima’s scaffolding centerpiece on the stage – a versatile decision for functionality and simplicity — allows two stairways for entrances and exits, and two levels for performances that shape and move both the crowd and solo moments of the show.
Performances continue Thursdays through Sundays, through April 24. Tickets: $15 to $35, at www.diamondheadtheatre.com or phone 808-733-0274. …
And that’s Show Biz. …