TAMPA — He's nearly twice the age of the character he's portraying, but Ted Neeley still has the vocal power, range and stamina to spark a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But except for Neeley and a pair of other performers, the production that runs through the weekend at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is generally lackluster.
Neeley played Jesus in the original 1971 Broadway production, and he's best known for his performance in the 1973 film. His 64-year-old voice still ranges impressively from a soft and appealing rasp to a high-pitched wail, anguished but controlled.
Tiffini Dodson as Mary Magdalene and Craig Sculli as Pontius Pilate also do well. But the set and costumes are uninteresting, and on opening night the musicianship was unexceptional and the ensemble's energy was low.
Corey Glover, the frontman of the '80s rock band Living Colour, played Judas. He has many of the show's best songs but seems more interested in showing off his vocal gymnastics than in imparting a character or delivering coherent lyrics and melodies. His performance of Heaven on Their Minds, the show's first song, was wild and wretched.
Dodson, though, delivers a poignant and beautiful version of I Don't Know How to Love Him, and Sculli was effective in all his songs, especially Pilate's Dream.
Jesus Christ Superstar is still Andrew Lloyd Webber's best show, with more memorable and powerful music than all his other works combined, and its examination of the story and characters is still thought-provoking.
Tampa is the last stop on the tour. Fatigue could explain some mediocre performances, but it doesn't excuse them.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.