“Jesus Christ Superstar” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – February 1, 2023


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

For the 50th anniversary tour of the early rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it was wisely decided that the now tired old show needed a fresh perspective.  Unfortunately, what landed here is a loud and noisy retread.  The show looks and sounds much like the original production I saw in the early ‘70s at the outdoor Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  The throbbing staging, the foot-stomping choreography, and most of the performances are duplications of the original characters played with no particular flair or uniqueness.

The simple story about Christ’s short life and his impact on the world is intact but during the past 50 years, musicals have moved on making what was once revolutionary now rather draggy and bland.  The Andrew Lloyd Webber score still has the familiar favorites we know and love.

The cast shouts and moves around in the repetitious new staging which is loaded with tiresome directorial repeats after the first few minutes when the show looks a tad inspired. Jack Hopewell’s Jesus hollers with keen dispatch but even with a microphone firmly in hand makes none of his words clear enough to be understood.  The dialogue comprehension plagues the entire cast because the loudness blurs words, the wild action makes spitting out the words an unfulfilled challenge, and the bizarre ASU Gammage acoustics rarely mesh with the Broadway tours own sound systems.

Elvie Ellis’ mean and vile Judas is a bit better than Jesus but only Faith Jones’ Mary and her reflective and heartfelt “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” proved the musical’s showstopping moment.  Nicholas Hambruch’s Pilate is forcefully bombastic as he destroys Jesus.

The over-amplified, six-person orchestra was augmented by several cast who played instruments in what is now a standard in too many musicals.  Non-descript costumes couldn’t decide if they should be contemporary or garishly colorful.

This production’s final rub is it is a non-union tour so it didn’t duplicate what recently played London and Broadway yet ticket prices weren’t reduced from those of the fully professional tours that sometime stop at ASU Gammage.

“Superstar” groupies attended opening night to cheer obnoxiously at the show’s high points as other audience started departing after about 10 minutes into the 90-minute show without an intermission.  This stream of early exits says much about this mediocre and certainly not new “Jesus Christ Superstar” that continues through Sunday, February 5.  Tickets may be obtained by calling the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-3434 or ordering tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C-