(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 3/12.)
There might be no more appropriate way to begin a review of “Jesus Christ Superstar” than to engage in a confession. So here is mine: Although this rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has been a global phenomenon since it first arrived as a concept album in 1970 and became a Broadway spectacle the following year, it has never been a favorite musical. I’ve invariably found productions of it overblown, over-amplified and campy in the extreme. In fact, until now, the most enjoyable version of the show was its adaptation as a wacky parody of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. But with the intimate, fiercely impassioned production of the musical that has just opened at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater, everything has changed. I have finally seen the light (and beauty) of the show.
The Theo Ubique version not only captures the full meaning of the story, but brings a unique level of clarity and believability to it all as it homes in the personalities and motivations of its many larger-than-life characters. This theater may have a small stage, but it knows how to exert an epic impact. And the combination of Fred Anzevino’s insightful, detailed direction, the resplendent music direction and piano accompaniment of Jeremy Ramey (whose band, including Kevin Brown, Jacob Saleh and Justin LaForte, could easily compete with any full orchestra), the hard-driving choreography of Brenda Didier, and the performances of an ensemble whose clarion voices and onstage personae are of Biblical proportions, has finally pierced the heart and soul of this show. This is a thrilling, altogether impressive rendering on every level.