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Theater Review: The 50th anniversary tour of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ breathes new life into a modern classic

by Andy Haynes

The 50th anniversary tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” began its Orlando run on June 7, 2022, and Attractions Magazine was invited to find out what’s the buzz and to tell everyone what’s a-happening!

jesus christ superstar
Photos by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a re-imagining of The Passion story, exploring the last days of Jesus and centering around his relationships with Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot. The show begins in the late stages of Jesus’s ministry and focuses on Judas’s growing distaste for the movement, his betrayal of Jesus, and Jesus’s subsequent crucifixion.

No prior knowledge of the story is necessary to enjoy the show, though having a basic understanding of the events will help audience members pick up on some of the looser and less defined connections between the source material and the musical.

As much as the story of Jesus Christ may be timeless, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is definitely a show from the early 1970s that is very much of its time. The influences of the late 1960s and early 1970s music are felt through every song, and truly the idea of a rock opera in and of itself can feel quite dated.

This is certainly not to say that the music and lyrics are bad, of course, and the show’s staying power and continued place in musical theater over the last fifty years is a testament to that. Some of the show’s more enduring (and singable) songs include the beautiful (and beautifully performed) “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the titular “Superstar.”

The show is presented as a true rock opera with very little, if any, spoken dialogue, and one song transitioning straight into the next. This holds for the show’s entire 90-minute runtime (which is presented without an intermission, so plan accordingly).

This particular production leans heavily into the rock concert aspects of the musical, having the band appear on stage and having each performer sing into a handheld microphone (although they each also had a wireless microphone on their face, so I was never sure if the handheld mics were props or the face mics were just backups).

jesus christ superstar paul louis lessard

The heavier rock concert elements were hit or miss for me, and without spoiling the specific moments, worked beautifully at times – such as during the death of Judas – and felt a bit forced at others, such as during the death of Jesus.

The set had a very cool industrial feel and used lighting very effectively to highlight the crosses made from steel beams coming together.

Anachronisms abound in the show, and indeed, are often purposeful components that range from the very blatant (Jesus strumming his acoustic guitar in a jam session with his disciples in a way reminiscent of a modern youth pastor) to the more nuanced (Jesus and his disciples dancing around with crosses, a symbol which should only really become associated with Jesus after his death).

tommy mcdowell and jenna rubaii

If you have ever seen a previous production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” this tour thankfully lacks many of the aesthetic choices which must have been cool in the 1970s but come across as a bit hokey now.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” has always been a show that lives and dies on the talent of the performers, particularly those playing the demanding high tenor parts of Jesus and Judas. In this production, the standout is Omar Lopez-Cepero as Judas, who commands attention whenever he appears on stage.

While it’s hard to root for the literal character of Judas, Lopez-Cepero really brings his humanity and his inner conflict to life on the stage, from his first lyrics to his final notes. The rest of the cast more than holds their own, keeping the energy high through the entire show.

jesus christ superstar crucifixion

In the end, while the show may be a bit dated, this touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is well worth the price of admission to see an even more modern retelling of an already modern retelling. The superbly talented cast hits all the right notes and never lets the pace drag for the entirety of the show’s runtime.

Older generations will appreciate the throwback music and rock concert atmosphere while younger generations get an opportunity to see a modern classic retooled for the new millennium.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is open now at The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, and runs through June 12.

For tickets, visit DrPhillipsCenter.org and to find out more about upcoming tour dates, visit USTour.JesusChristSuperstar.com.


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1 comment

Robin October 15, 2022 - 5:49 pm

I just saw Jesus christ superstar in Toledo. It was intense and magnificent. Jesus version of I only want to say blew me away. I have seen the original movie several times and the play with Ted Neeley. All awesome. This play was a little different/creative in a fabulous way. If any of the performers have access to this pleaseshare with them how awesome it was. Would see again in a heartbeat!

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