The first thing to capture me in Jesus Christ Superstar — at Capital One Hall through October 22 — was the energetic vibe of the ensemble as they danced during the overture to open the rock opera’s 50th-anniversary tour. That dancing alone is worth the price of admission.
Jesus Christ Superstar is Judas’ version of his and Jesus’ last week on earth. Judas is attempting to make a case for why he should not go down in history with blood on his hands. One earlier reviewer suggested changing the title to Judas Superstar because Judas has more lines. This is not a Bible story. If one comes looking for a story about Jesus, you won’t find it here. Understanding the show for what it is will lead to an entertaining evening.
Choreographer Drew McOnie’s crew keeps the pace throughout the 90-minute experience. Dancers interact with singers dazzlingly. There is minimal conversation, the show is sung-through, and Director Timothy Sheader allows Tim Rice’s lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music to move as in the original.
The five-piece orchestra — Ryan Wise, JeeJay Maccariella, Casimir Olko, Jacob McCormic, and James Gabriel — delivers an electrically charged loud rock score. The overture is exhilarating. They are in a screened tower backstage right.
The ensemble plays apostles, lepers, soldiers, and a mob. They circle Jesus, played by Joshua Bess on opening night, who sings the role well with strong vocals. What would a rock opera be without singing? Jesus Christ Superstar features 22 songs with an overture and coda.
Jaden Dominique portrays a fantastic Mary. Her alto is tested in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and scores an A. She displays compassion for Jesus. For half a century some Christian critics have accused the character of being too compassionate to the point of lewdness. Dominique’s Mary is innocent of the charges.
When Jesus storms the temple and drives out the den of robbers polluting God’s house, he removes an ensemble costumed in a sort of buckskin-looking glitz with gold holding golden crosses. A large cross about two feet tall serves as a prop descending from back to front stage.
A two-story construction fills the back left stage allowing singers room to view proceedings and perform. Lighting changes and screens are used thoroughly here as with the orchestra. The costumes are drab. T-shirts, shorts, and modified sweats. When there are costume changes, in the temple and Herod’s court, they seem that much more dramatic.
Performers use a cross to enter and exit. It is also used as a stage for leaders. During “The Temple.” Bess’ Jesus enters emotionally charged, “Get out, get out!” he demands. But Jesus seems to have a breakdown as the masses crowd about him looking for a miracle. “I believe you can make me well,” the crowd sings closing in on Jesus. Finally, Jesus tells them to “heal yourselves.”
Then, it is Mary to the rescue with a reprise of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Following the King of the Jews’ emotional defeat in the temple, the turning point of the show is in “Gethsemane.” Jesus is once again on an emotional rollercoaster. “If there is a way, take this cup from me,” he sings at the beginning. He sings about dying at several points in the song. Jesus is as depressed as a man can be. Then in the penultimate stanza, Rice changes Jesus’ tune.
Why then am I afraid to finish what I started
What you started, I didn’t start it … Kill me
Take me now!
Before I change my mind.
By now even Judas could see Jesus had a greater purpose. And the rollercoaster rises.
My favorite number was Alec Diem’s “Herod’s Song.” Many productions cast Herod as a flamboyant transvestite prancing around the stage as comic relief in “Herod’s Song.” This show does too. Herod will remind some of Rocky Horror Show’s Frank-N-Furter, another character popular this time of year. The king is surrounded by half a dozen ensemble members dressed as clowns.
As Herod closes his song with “Take him away, He’s got nothing to say,” the court is seated so that the audience sees only their heads on collars that look like plates bouncing back and forth to Herod’s cues. This made for a wonderful visual.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays through October 22, 2023, in the Main Theater at Capital One Hall – 7750 Capital One Tower Road, Tysons, VA. Shows on October 22 are at 1 pm and 7 pm. For tickets ($59–$359), call (866) 341-4583 or purchase online.
The official Jesus Christ Superstar North American Tour website is here.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Lyrics and music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber
Timothy Sheader (director), Drew McOnie (choreographer), Ryan Edward Wise (music director), Lee Curran (lighting designer).
Cast: Joshua Bess: Jesus; Elvie Ellis: Judas; Jaden Dominique: Mary: Jaden Dominique; Grant Hodges: Caiaphas; Alex Stone: Pilate; Mehki Holloway: Annas; Sherrod Brown: Simon; Alec Diem: Herod; Thomas McFerran: Peter; Reese Spencer; Mob leader; John Zamborsky: First priest; Johan Santigo Santos: Second priest; Jaylon Crump: Third priest; Aja Simone Baitey, Katrice Jackson, Jeilani Rhone-Collins: Soul singers; Aja Simone Baitey, Ethan Hardy Benson, Sherrod Brown, Kalei Cotecson, Jaylon Crump, Alec Deim, Jaleel Green, Domanick Anton Hubbard, Haley Huelsman, Katrice Jackson, Cameron Kuhn, Taylor Lane, Thomas McFerran, Jeilani Rhone-Collins, Santiago Santos, Reese Spenser, Anakin Jace and John Zamborsky: ensemble.
• “Overture” – Orchestra
• “Heaven on Their Minds” – Judas
• “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing, Mystifying” – Jesus, Judas, Mary and Apostles
• “Everything’s Alright” – Mary, Judas, Jesus, Women and Apostles
• “This Jesus Must Die” – Caiaphas, Annas, and High Priests
• “Hosanna” – Jesus, Caiaphas and Company
• “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem” – Simon, Jesus and Company
• “Pilate’s Dream” – Pilate
• “The Temple” – Jesus and Ensemble
• “Everything’s Alright (Reprise)” – Mary and Jesus
• “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – Mary
• “Damned for All Time/Blood Money” – Judas, Caiaphas, Annas, and Ensemble
• “The Last Supper” – Jesus, Judas, and Apostles
• “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” – Jesus
• “The Arrest” – Judas, Jesus, Peter, Apostles, Caiaphas, Annas, and Ensemble
• “Peter’s Denial” – Maid by the Fire, Peter, Soldier, Old Man, and Mary
• “Pilate and Christ” – Pilate, Jesus, Soldier, and Ensemble
• “King Herod’s Song” – Herod
• “Could We Start Again Please?” – Mary, Peter, Apostles, and Women
• “Judas’ Death” – Judas, Caiaphas, Annas, and Ensemble
• “Trial Before Pilate” – Pilate, Jesus, Caiaphas, and Ensemble
• “Superstar” – Judas, Soul Sisters, and Angels
• “The Crucifixion” – Jesus and Ensemble
• “John Nineteen: Forty-One” – Orchestra
Information about future Broadway in Tysons productions is here.