THE BUZZ IS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Mickey’s Black Box at Rock Lititz
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice released the JESUSE CHRIST SUPERSTAR concept album, they immediately had a hit on their hands. They also staged it for Broadway and got mired in controversy – was it anti-Semitic? Was it sacrilege? Should the Bible be told through rock music? Fifty – yes, fifty years (some of us can feel our age remembering the commotion and hype) years later is still sacrilege for some conservative Christian groups, but for most of between us is nice, but a bit dated.
Australia’s JCS update attempted to freshen things up by asking audiences to post social media in the theater to participate in “spreading the buzz” as the set puts it. When everyone in the audience is asked to be on their cell phones during the show, it’s hard to catch everyone and everything on stage. Shoshanna Bean found a new way to do it in 2017, having felt called to have a feminine Jesus and Judas dynamic. The result was a spectacular but not much advertised concept album. It has since been staged in a few locations with all-female actors.
Mickey’s Black Box production in Lititz, directed and choreographed by Rebecca Gentry, has a female Jesus, played by local scene veteran Lindsay Bretz-Morgan in what might just be the best work she’s ever done. His playing as well as his singing is at its peak here. She conveys to the audience, physically and emotionally, how painful it is to try to convey a message to the world. Love hurts, and she shows it. Michael Zorger, an inspired cast for Judas, carries the burden of “you’ve lost your original message and I hate it” perfectly and, thankfully, without the sense of any gender dynamics at play against a female Jesus.
Corey Landis sings of Mary Magdalene as an earth mother, nurturing the nurturer who is Jesus. Even in her superb “I don’t know how to love her,” there’s no real romantic dynamic so much as there’s a sense of wading through how to handle the difficult person she’s caring for. How do you protect someone who insists on emptying themselves daily?
The cast is as diverse as seen on a local scene, if not more. There are men and women in this gender-neutral cast with white, black and Hispanic singers, straight and gay performers – the stage here is everyone’s big meeting place, just like the city of Jerusalem of Jesus the was in its time. The costume isn’t an attempt to recreate the hippie scene from the original production, and it’s both eye-catching and appealing. Although, like the youth culture of the early 70s, it may offend an older audience. It’s all black for the whole thing with an air of goths and bikers gathered in a BDSM club for a very big party. As for the cast, it’s glorious. Bretz-Morgan’s Jesus stands out in white with gray boots; Mary is in golden tones, Judas in blood red and Pontius Pilate – Brian Fasnocht – plays an excellent performance in a purple leather coat. Herod, Russ Reed, naturally stands out and looks striking in formal black and sequins, playing entertainer with a smarmy air from Richard Dawson’s character in The Running Man, while adding a dancing cane and chorus girls.
Overall, it’s an inspiring production in its beautifully diverse cast, its message, and with the talent on stage and in the band led by Ryan Dean Schoening. What finally emerges is a world-weary Jesus, who, in three years, grows accustomed to being consumed – by the sick tearing Jesus apart to be healed, by the apostles vying for attention and favour, too much to do and not enough time to do it. “For All You Care, This Bread Could Be My Body” by Bretz-Morgan at the Passover Seder with the Apostles (the show unintentionally opened on the night of the first seder, which is a fitting time coincidentally) fully conveys and blatantly binds all that Jesus clearly saw and felt throughout the journey.
Unfortunately, the show is only on Easter weekend – and there are already only standing places; the small room is already crowded with experienced theatergoers. Have a happy Easter and Passover weekend.