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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ shines bright at Popejoy

The company of the North American Tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Everything’s alright with the production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The national tour is celebrating the iconic musical’s 50th anniversary.

It opened at Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico campus Thursday night.

Director Tim Sheader directed the musical in 2017 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London. It won the Olivier Award for best musical revival.

He was tasked with taking the open air production and tweaking it so it could travel the United States in theaters.

In his vision for the musical, Sheader wanted to push the boundaries and sharpen the edge to the production. Mission accomplished.

On Thursday night, the Popejoy audience witnessed the success.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Judas.

Reflecting the rock roots that defined a generation, the legendary score includes “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” “Gethsemane” and “Superstar.”

The traveling show is directed by Sheader, while Drew McOnie is choreographing. Costumes are done by Tom Scutt, lighting by Lee Curran and music supervision by Tom Deering. (Note: each one of these was meticulously done. I found myself intrigued by the choreograpy).

It continues through Sunday, Oct. 20.

While this iteration of “Jesus Christ Superstar” isn’t for everyone, the attention to detail in the design of it all is a feast for the eyes.

Adding to the enchantment is the absolute raw talent of each performer. I’m talking all the way down to the ensemble and musicians.

Sheader said casting was an obstacle because he’s based in England and had to find a cast in the United States.

He struck gold with the cast of Aaron LaVigne, James Delisco Beeks, Jenna Rubii, Alvin Crawford, Tommy Sherlock, Tyce Green, Eric A. Lewis, Paul Louis Lessard and Tommy McDowell.

From the moment the overture began and led into “Heaven on Their Minds,” it was apparent that this musical was full of soul.

Beeks commanded the stage as Judas with a powerful voice.

Yet so did Crawford, Sherlock, Green, Lewis, Lessard, McDowell. And Rubii brought plenty of sensitivity to the stage.

As Jesus, LaVigne certainly showed he was up to the task.

At the first rehearsal, he mentioned to me that he was taking on the role with plenty of gusto and wanted to do his best, and there were some nerves as he was portraying one of the most iconic roles.

As Jesus, he was able to show a range of emotions, including compassion.

During “Trial By Pilate/39 Lashes,” as he was taking the beating, his vulnerability leapt off the stage.

And as the production headed into the crucifixion, the audience focused on LaVigne as he was raised on the cross. The moments of silence spoke loudly.

The production pays homage to the genius of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the lyrics and music respectively.

The story is one for the ages and 50 years after the original, it holds up like a classic.

Seeing the production, you’ll find out exactly what “the buzz” is all about. An outstanding piece from beginning to end.”

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20
WHERE: Popejoy Hall, University of New Mexico campus
HOW MUCH: $53-$98, plus fees at unmtickets.com, UNM Bookstore ticket office, UNM ticket office at Dreamstyle Arena, by phone at 925-5858 or 877-664-8661

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