Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (Mirvish)

people kneeling around "jesus" in Jesus Christ Superstar

The 50th Anniversary Production of Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre until January 2, 2022. Fifty years, I can hardly believe it. I didn’t see the show then but, oh, I listened to the music!

This production of Jesus Christ Superstar is all about the music. There’s no spoken dialogue; the singers, dancers, and the orchestra tell the story. The set, the lighting, the costumes, the props are all there to serve the music. Truly an opera.

The show tells the story of the final seven days of Jesus Christ’s life. If you were raised in the Western Christian tradition, you were taught that Judas was an evil man who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Here he’s portrayed as someone who loves Jesus. He believes that Jesus’s followers will be seen as a threat to the Romans and that the movement is getting out of control.

Tyrone Huntley plays Judas, but only in the Toronto production, reprising his role from the 2016 production at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. James D. Beeks (performing as James D. Justis) was the actor originally playing the role in the tour. Beeks was arrested on charges related to the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol in Washington, DC.

We are so lucky! Huntley is a powerhouse. His agony as he tries to decide what to do is palpable. His powerful voice soars, seemingly effortlessly, out over the audience. I much preferred the despair of his rendition of I Don’t Know How To Love Him to Mary’s (Jenna Rubaii) straight performance of the song.

It took me a while to warm up to Aaron LaVigne as Jesus. In the first half, I didn’t sense the kind of charisma he would have had to have to attract so many people. His impassioned performance of Gethsemane at the beginning of the second half of the show changed that. This was a tired, sad man, questioning his fate while, at the same time, accepting it.

We tend to think it’s a show about Jesus, but to me, it’s a show about Judas.

I also loved the dancers. Drew McOnie’s choreography made me think of religious dances the way the dancers’ hands waved in the air and reached up as if they were imploring their gods to favour them. At times it was almost frantic.

In the olden days, the ensemble was called the chorus, and they were all young and thin and white and the same age and height. It’s great to see a mix of people. They’re all still pretty thin though.

The set looked as if part of it was constructed of iron girders. Tom Scutt’s design was layered and textured. On either side of the stage, there were two levels at the back. The orchestra was in the boxes on the upper levels, and Huntley sang from those levels a couple of times. Lee Curran’s lighting made them look as if oil lamps or candles lit them; the light was golden.

There was a ramp down one side of the stage, next to the two-level part. There were also a few small box-like spaces near the ramp. It made the set visually exciting and gave the principles places to move to and stand that separated them from the ensemble and created a nice level of intimacy.

Curran’s lighting added to director Timothy Sheader’s atmosphere, enhancing both the intimate moments and the crowd scenes.

For me, the most visually beautiful scene in the show was the last supper. Sheader and Scutt staged it to resemble da Vinci’s Last Supper. The apostles wore coloured robes, and Jesus wore white.

There’s a thing that sometimes happens at the end of a performance when the audience enjoyed so much that they can’t contain themselves. It happened at the end of Sunday’s matinee performance. People turned and talked to the people beside them, behind them and in front of them.

The people around me were saying, “Oh, the dancing! Wasn’t it amazing?” “Wow! The guy who played Judas has the most fantastic voice!” “Man! The music! The singing!” “Wasn’t this fabulous?!”

You don’t need me to say go see Jesus Christ Superstar. The audience said it for me. Seriously, I loved it.

Details:

  • Jesus Christ Superstar is playing until January 2, 2022, at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St. W.)
  • Performances until December 19 are Tuesday – Saturday at 8:00 PM, with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:30 and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Check the event calendar for the holiday schedule.
  • Tickets range from $39 to $149. There are a limited number of $29 rush seats available at 9:00 AM online each performance day for that day’s performance(s)
  • Tickets are only available online or by phone at 1.800.461.3333

Photo of Aaron LaVigne and the company by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade

2 thoughts on “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (Mirvish)”

  1. I just saw it last night and loved it. Your critique of Aaron LaVigne matches how I felt about his performance too. It took me a while to appreciate him. I wasn’t sure if he was acting wishy washy (can’t think of the word I mean… limp??!) or if that’s how Jesus was being portrayed but by the garden scene I felt his weariness.
    I felt the sound of ‘Mary’s’ singing was beautiful, but I had a really hard time understanding much of what the words were… not sure if the fault was hers or mine.
    Harod reminded me of Hamilton’s King George, I really enjoyed his performance. Bad guy Tyce Green was very very good as well.
    Excellent production!

  2. There was much to praise about this production. In particular, there were many aspects of the set design that I enjoyed. Having the musicians on stage on scaffolds in an urban decay setting was simple and elegant and it allowed for interaction between the cast and musicians, who at times joined each other above the stage. The use of a large, slanting horizontal cross on the stage floor as a multipurpose prop was excellent, as we saw it move from catwalk performance area to a low table for the Last Supper tableau scene, and finally serve as Golgotha for the crucifixion. I loved the concept of having some of Jesus and his followers also be guitar players. The upper body and arm and hand choreography for the ensemble was striking, as if the followers were smitten with a ritualistic fervor. For me, the most memorable solo performance of the night was Eric A. Lewis as Simon Zealotes – powerful and soulful. I would like to have heard more from him. The Pharisees were delightfully nasty, and rivaled the alternating high tenor and deep bass performances of the 1973 film cast.

    What didn’t work for me was the character of Jesus. I don’t know if it was the direction or casting, but the role left no lasting impression on me. Given the simple earth tones chosen for costuming, I would have liked to see more done with hair. When you are sitting out in the audience, the short, shaved, and tightly tied-back or braided hairstyles got lost in the distance. And while I loved the concept of Jesus and others holding guitars and sometimes playing, I felt there was a missed opportunity to really play that up, so that it was more overt that the disciples were performers and Jesus the lead singer. The speed of the performances and quick movements between songs may have been a pandemic necessity to shorten the performance time, but it did make things feel rushed and left no room for thoughtful pause between numbers.

    Like everyone else, I was thrilled to see this anniversary tour, and relieved to catch its brief appearance during the pandemic. Stylistically, it reminded me very much of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (2018) (TV Movie) – right down to the use of buckets of glitter – which I went home to re-watch after the show for comparison.

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