Fiddlehead Theatre: Jesus Christ Superstar at the Strand
Jesus Christ Superstar at the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner is a "Can't Miss" show that extends Fiddlehead Theatre's reach into experimental theatre with substance and that offers high-quality drama, music and dance to the entire Boston area. Running through Sunday, May 3, 2015, the show will change your perspective on life, just a bit, forever.
For more information: visit their website: http://www.fiddleheadtheatre.com
More than 40 years have passed since the original Jesus Christ Superstar (1972) by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The new-found freedoms of individual thought and expression have reduced the ability for shows like JCS to shock us, or so it would seem.
Fiddlehead Theatre, resident at the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner, concludes their 2014-2015 season with this Tony-Award winning rock opera, directed and costumed by Fiddlehead's Associate Producing Artistic Directory, Stacey Stephens, April 24 - May 3, 2015.
Fiddlehead's press release touts a story of "rise to fame and fall" followed by being "crucified by the media," in other words, a modern day tale about humanity, not one tied to a biblical teaching.
In this writer's opinion, this description may reflect what JCS can be in some settings. But it minimizes and misrepresents the magnitude of the accomplishments of our local Fiddlehead Theatre Company. Their staging, singing and dancing creates a JC Superstar which takes on a profound story of jealousy, power, intense personal inquiry and an audience immersion into the throws of excruciating death.
More than that, the production seems to deliberately confuse the lines between theatre and reality.
The audience is permitted little opportunity to disengage from the story with applause (as in "We are being entertained").
The final curtain call, which ordinarily flips the switch to allow us to see the actors out of character - what happened to it? (as in, "Thank goodness, it wasn't real, or was it?")
Be forewarned: "white space" for intermittent clapping, whoops and hollers is limited. You, the audience, have to be ready to steal (literally) and interrupt the flow to contribute your acclamations. (I did.)
Mary Magdalene is stunningly beautiful, though her voice falters when she sings softly but soars as she rises to the back of the stage and pours out her emotion. Was that, too, a deliberate part of the creative implementation?
The stage set is simple, unlike other Fiddlehead productions where moving crews quickly revision the scene with a new set. Both Jesus (Justin Raymond Reeves) and Judas (Devon Stone) sing powerfully as their parts require, and they are convincing in their roles.
One JCS aficionado reported that some attendees were disappointed in Judas' portrayal because he was simply too good in his role - visually and sonorously - and should have looked and sounded more like a villain - an interesting opinion. Judas, as the evil instrument, is more like someone you might want to know, yet you see him standing "firm" in his convictions and eventually facing his own self-misunderstandings. He, too, gets to sing the famous Mary Magdalene song, "I don't know how to love him."
A Story of Humanity Gone Wrong
We get to wonder why Jesus was not more compassionate towards Judas, addressing his issues so that the fore-ordained consequences would not take place. Indeed, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote "Could we start again, please?" which Fiddlehead included (this is not often done). How many times in our own lives do we wish that fate had dealt us a different path?
Yes, the JC groupies, devotees and commercial interests (making a profit from the JC paraphernalia) clearly label our hero a superstar but one (as we watch) without apparent justification. The score is lacking scenes showing Jesus' precipitous rise to the popularity of the prominent TV talk shows. Jesus obviously enjoys every minute of the attention, including from guards who keep the crowds away.
Present for brief moments, as in soothing breezes that cool the sweltering, oppressive heat, are the truly enjoyable
- fans and media attempting to get one word into their microphones, as if a touch to his garment might heal them
- Jesus giving out autographs
- the signs "JC for Prez"
best of all, the digitally projected ticker-tape in the digital cloud
(at the top of the stage) - CNN reporters and twitter feeds
When, at The Last Supper, the chaotic collection of disorderly disciples (half men and half women) pose for a photographer with large box camera on stand, the audience enjoys a chance to laugh, and we did. Seconds after the group photo is taken, an "exact" representation appears in the digital cloud. Not far behind, though, is the dissolve to the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting "The Last Supper" which darkens our moods as reality sets in.
Opportunity for Personal Inquiry
An essential reason for seeing Fiddlehead's production is the opportunity for personal inquiry and a look at human behavior:
- the adoring fans, including the press pushing forward for just a glimpse, just a word
- the heinous crowds condemning Jesus, shouting, "Crucify him, crucify him"
- the 12 common disciples who enjoy the pizza Jesus brings to The Last Supper but who pay no attention to him and have no clue
- the bawdy dancers and singing taking place along side Jesus' execution
On a personal note: I was moved to tears by this highly contrasting staging as the condemnation of Jesus (anyone) rolled forward and the dancers, scantily dressed, performed as if in a nightclub or strip joint. The effect was heart-wrenching. Suddenly, I saw an image of prisoners on death row, with their executions reported to the agreeing crowds. Why does our society continue to support homicide in any form?
Without giving away Fiddlehead's "setting it at a tragic time in American history," suffice it to say their use of digital technology deserves an award. The opening scene stage set is projected and filled with sirens, the injured and dying, stretchers and confusion.
"This is Jesus Christ Superstar??"
The rock opera closes (curtains as well) with the digital projection of the same opening scene but this time as an empty dark hole followed by silence.
"This is how it all ends?"
The audience sat quietly for a while, then stood up and left. I cried, thick tears streaming down my face, and I looked for people near by to console me.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs through Sunday, May 3, 2015. Don't miss it. Your perspective on life will change, just a bit, forever.
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Posted: April 30, 2015 Nancy J Conrad