Thursday, February 22, 2018
Stage

Once condemned, popular musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar' coming to Stage West

SPRING HILL — The rock opera concept album Jesus Christ Superstar arrived in 1970 to shock and anger among some Christian groups, enraged that Jesus was portrayed as a human with human emotions and frailties, rather than a divinity above it all.

One famous evangelist condemned it outright as blasphemy, though he admitted he had never heard it. Later, he changed his mind, saying it could bring agnostic or atheist young people to church to hear the full story, especially after churches around the country began playing music from the show during services. Not long after that, churches began to produce the entire show themselves, knowing it would be a big draw.

When the musical opened on Broadway in 1971, critics blasted it as "hackwork," but — surprise! — audiences loved it. It had that 1970s counterculture vibe, with hip lyrics, familiar slang and a driving, exciting guitar line. Most of all, it humanized Jesus in a way that may have appalled some, but attracted many more. Composer/writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice denied they had any religious motive in writing it and said they'd gone out of their way to make it theologically neutral.

Interestingly, it ends with the crucifixion of Christ and doesn't even mention the very heart of Christianity — the miraculous resurrection.

Indeed, the story is more about Jesus wrestling with the problems caused by his fame than about the sacrifices demanded by his divinity. He seems disillusioned by the high expectations people have of him and the demands they make of him. As one critic wrote, "This was a story more about Elvis than the savior of mankind."

Stage West Community Playhouse will do the perennially popular musical May 12 to 15 and 20 to 22, with a 23-member cast that includes several HAMI Award winners and some surprises — women cast in the key roles of the betrayer apostle Judas (Victoria Primosch, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors), villainous King Herod (Angelena Burrow, Crystal in Little Shop) and the priest Annas (Lynda Dilts-Benson, Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!).

The musical itself is only about 90 minutes long (plus intermission) and takes place over the last few days before the death of Jesus (Keith Surplus, Younger Brother in Ragtime). It varies from the King James version of events to some extent, but includes the key players — Mary Magdalene (Kristen Ballard, Ronette in Little Shop), the Jewish priests Caiaphas (Brady Lay, Father in Ragtime) and Annas, the pugnacious Simon the Zealot (Jay Garcia, Houdini in Ragtime), Pontius Pilate (Anthony Cromartie, Booker T. Washington in Ragtime) and the apostle Peter (Anthony Agnelli), plus a large ensemble of singers and dancers.

The musical not only humanizes Jesus; it is also rather sympathetic to the apostle Judas, letting him portray himself not as a villain, but as the protector of the Jewish people, as well as a key element in the fulfillment of God's plan. After he agrees to tell the priests where Jesus and his followers are hiding out, he piously vows to donate his "finder's fee" of 30 pieces of silver to some worthwhile charity.

Another departure is the Last Supper, which isn't presented as the comradely final gathering seen in many other dramatizations of that event, but as the scene of anger and accusations and, finally, indifference on the part of the apostles. Jesus is arrested, sent from court to court and judge to judge, vilified by the mob, then finally crucified, where he is mourned by his followers.

Andi Sperduti Garner, who made her Stage West debut in 1991 as a young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, makes her directorial debut with this production.

Comments
An original clarinet and bassoon composition highlights Tampa Bay Symphony concert

An original clarinet and bassoon composition highlights Tampa Bay Symphony concert

ST. PETERSBURG — After the National Anthem and some introductory remarks by the maestro, a teacher from Chattanooga, Tenn., addressed a crowd at the Palladium Tuesday about the short work they were about to hear from the Tampa Bay Symphony."This piec...
Published: 02/21/18
Orchestra debuts commissioned work, slam poet Neil Hilborn performs in Ybor

Orchestra debuts commissioned work, slam poet Neil Hilborn performs in Ybor

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: NEW BLOODOne of the more significant Florida Orchestra events of the season, the world premiere of a commissioned piece, is this weekend. The orchestra, with personal financial backing from music director Michael Francis and his wi...
Published: 02/21/18
Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

TAMPA Apparently, the Phantom lives forever.Thirty-two years after its premiere, one of the top-grossing musicals of all time is still packing ’em in. Sunday’s matinee at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts showed why Andrew Lloyd ...
Published: 02/19/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Published: 02/17/18
Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skel...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/18/18
On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: ROMEO AND JULIET The Florida Orchestra has lined up a romantic evening. This weekend’s concert, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, pays tribute to Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s prelude, Fugues and R...
Published: 02/14/18
‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

TAMPA — In some ways, the latest offering at Stageworks Theatre comes loaded with promise.A young man with a lot of motivation, personality and wisdom dies in a random and violent way. In telling his story, we also get a glimpse of life in a Brooklyn...
Published: 02/12/18
Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Tony winner Laura Benanti (for best actress in a musical), who brings her cabaret act to the Straz Center this week, was a self-described ugly duckling. Growing up in New Jersey, she never tired of Sondheim soundtracks and struggled with a secret shy...
Published: 02/09/18
Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, Escape to Margaritaville, was coming along nicely, but someth...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18
Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

ST. PETERSBURGThemes are useful sometimes. Right now, the Florida Orchestra is still enjoying the heart of its 50th anniversary season, which has been big and loud and celebratory.At other times, maybe it’s best to just put a fine program together an...
Updated one month ago