Richard Bermudez (kneeling), Monika Pena and Brian Justin Crum (far right) in "Jesus Christ Superstar." Photo by Fred Tracey
After more than half a century, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is still the finest musical in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s – excuse me, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s – canon. From my personal experience with it, the original London recording that starred Murray Head as Judas Iscariot and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan as Jesus Christ has never been bettered on stage or screen. But that’s neither here nor there. “JCS” is always an entertaining and thoughtful theatrical piece and, needless to say, its story is timeless.
Moonlight Stage Productions’ “Jesus Christ Superstar” honors Lloyd Webber’s music (and Tim Rice’s lyrics) beautifully, with an orchestra conducted by Lyndon Pugeda and passionate vocalists in both Brian Justin Crum (as Judas) and Richard Bermudez (as Jesus). “JCS” is a totally sung-through musical and while its two best-known songs, “Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” are the most enthusiastically received by audiences, there are no throwaway tunes in the score. Each song with possibly the exception of the Act 2 “Could We Start Again Please” (written for the Broadway stage debut and not on the original album) dramatically propels the story ahead, that Greatest Story Ever Told.
Moonlight’s production directed by Steven Glaudini is from the outset in forward motion, though the choreography by Jimmy Locust is excessive in the first act. Too many disciples looking like balletic commune hippies dancing around on the pretext of being in Christ’s charismatic sphere. The campy “King Herod” ragtime number starring an excusably outrageous Dallas McLaughlin is more justifiable as is a Vegas-ready treatment of the penultimate “Superstar” number.
Projections by Blake McCarty don’t seem to add anything significant to the proceedings, though they were worth a try with a show that’s been produced as zillions of times as this one has.
Amid the occasional over-production, Moonlight’s staging of Judas’ suicide, the flogging of Jesus and the crucifixion are visually potent and visceral.
The crucifixion scene, by the way, includes a device I’ve never seen in my many viewings of “JCS.” See what you think.
San Diego-born Crum, who performed at Moonlight in “My One and Only” when he was but 16 years old, is the most impressive member of this large “Superstar” cast. He finds the humanity and the self-torture in Judas Iscariot, a critical component of the show.
Rather than just singing his part, Bermudez acts his way through as well. It’s a smart approach considering most of the second act of “JCS” conveys without vocals the suffering and strength of Jesus Christ at the hands of his persecutors.
While I didn’t especially connect with Monika Pena’s by-the-book Mary Magdalene, I found Jeffrey Ricca’s percolating Pilate among the best if not the best I’ve seen and heard.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is that rare show at Moonlight that’s over in less than two hours. Also that rare show at Moonlight that doesn’t boast the happily-ever-after ending. Or does it?
“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs through May 27 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.