Jesus Christ Superstar
- Lyrics by Tim Rice
- Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Directed by Des McAnuff
- Starring Josh Young, Paul Nolan, Chilina Kennedy
- At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont.
Play at a glance: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 1971 rock opera tells an agnostic version of the story of Jesus Christ's last week of life. It's a love triangle between Judas (Josh Young), dismayed at the way the disciples are headed; Jesus, who is preparing for sacrifice; and Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy), who doesn't know how to love either of them.
First impression: Director Des McAnuff emerged before the opening night performance to explain that his Jesus had come down with a sudden "bronchial viral infection" that very afternoon. But even with Nolan under the weather and part of his range out of reach, it's clear this production is an absolute miracle. Give McAnuff a concert-style show and he's in directorial heaven, but he outshines even his latest Broadway hit with this spectacular staging. Soon, I suspect the Stratford Shakespeare Festival artistic director will be putting these Jerusalem boys (and girl) above Jersey Boys at the top of his CV.
Highlights: A cast to die for (your sins?) - a divine Nolan as Jesus; a sweet and suffering Kennedy as Mary Magdalene; and, completing this holy trinity, a wicked, well-sung take on Judas from Young. But truly, many of the best performances are in the supporting cast, notably an astonishingly complex one from Brent Carver as a conflicted, purple-suited Pontius Pilate. The production's top notch, too: Lisa Shriver's spirited choreography is fresh, while set designer Robert Brill finds inventive new ways to skin a catwalk.
The nitpicks: Well, we're taking a leap of faith that Nolan's singing will clear up as his lungs do. I have no fears based on his heroic first-night performance, but can't wait to check in on him again later this summer.
Audience's instant reaction: Filled with the holy ghost.
Critic's instant reaction: Four stars (rating subject to change - for full review, see Monday's Globe and Mail)