Jesus Christ Superstar returns to Playhouse Square in triumph




In March of 2020 the cast and crew of Jesus Christ Superstar had finished two performances. Everyone was in high anticipation for opening night when word came through. Due to Ohio State Covid Mandates all public gatherings would be suspended until further notice. Twenty-four months later the ban has been augmented and the show has returned to Playhouse Square in all of its ecclesiastical glory.

Of course Winter Storm Landon had other ideas as it dropped over a foot of snow over most of the Northeast Ohio area on the day of the much anticipated opening. The show went on with no alteration to its schedule but media night was changed from Thursday to Friday. The skies and roads have now cleared and the show can continue its 50th anniversary run.

This current touring version of Jesus Christ Superstar was originally staged by London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and adapted by current Director Timothy Sheader who went back to the original source, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice double LP concept album (aka “The Brown Album”) that was released in 1970 prior to the launch of the Broadway show. New to this tour is the addition of 22 local musicians who are seated in the theater boxes flanking the stage giving an entirely new dimension to the music.

All of the favorite show tunes are back in their full contemporary rock opera glory including “What’s the Buzz”, “Everything’s Alright”, “Hosanna”, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, “Gethsemane”, “Herod’s Song” and of course “Superstar.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is the story of the week leading up to the crucifixion of Christ (played by Aaron LaVigne). In this version Jesus is re-imagined as a guitar playing folk hero who struggles with the price of fame, adoration and the nature of mob mentality. It is seen through the eyes of Jesus’ disciple, Judas (Omar Lopez-Cepero) who is in disagreement with how the movement has evolved. In spite of the constant pressure from his followers Jesus is kept centered by Mary Magdalene (Jenna Rubaii) who although a common prostitute has become a group follower.

Christ arrives in Jerusalem unaware that he has many enemies in the form of the pharisees who see him as a threat to their extravagant lifestyle. When Jesus clears the temple of money changers the pharisees hatch a plan. They bribe Judas to betray Christ who kisses his friend on the cheek thus setting up the arrest. Once Jesus is hauled away by the soldiers Judas goes off and commits suicide.

Christ is brought before Pilate (Tommy Sherlock) who does not see this humble man as a threat to Rome but yielding to the desire of the pharisees sends him to King Herod (Paul Louis Lessard) who in turn sends him back to Pilate who has Jesus flogged then reluctantly yielding to crowd pressure has him crucified.

Every superlative that you have ever heard concerning this show is true only more so. The addition of the 22 local musicians to an already stellar eleven piece rock orchestra fills the theater with superb sound. Director Timothy Sheader has the show tightly paced to the point that the action moves from song to song seamlessly and the ninety minutes (no intermission) flies by.

Choreographer Drew McOnie infuses touches of traditional folk steps in his many dance sequences. Lighting Designer Lee Curran use of light and shadow adds to the somber tone of the show while giving just enough light in the darkened areas so we know what is happening. The Sound Design by Keith Caggiano and Nick Lidster is superb and crystal clear. The orchestra is well balanced so as not to drown out the singers and the individual singers are mic’d so as to be heard loud and clear. Tom Scott’s stage design allows for placement of the orchestra in the upper sections and a large cross on the floor stage left acts as a platform. His costuming is timeless yet contemporary.

As for the performers themselves, Aaron LaVigne as Jesus Christ has played this role over 300 times and has an astounding vocal range. His counterpoint, Omar Lopez-Cepero as Judas brings a special sensitivity to the role with an amazing set of pipes as well. Jenna Rubaii as Mary Magdalene makes the song “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” her own. Show stopper Paul Louis Lessard camps it up as Herod and Tommy Sherlock as Pilate pompously takes over the stage.

The cast consists of Aaron LaVigne as Jesus, Omar Lopez-Cepero as Judas, Jenna Rubaii as Mary, Alvin Crawford as Caiaphas, Tommy Sherlock as Pilate, Tyce Green as Annas, Eric A. Lewis as Simon, Paul Louis Lessard as Herod, Tommy McDowell as Peter, Sarah Parker as Mob Leader, Brian Golub as First Priest, Garfield Hammonds as Second Priest, Darrell T. Joe as Third Priest, Quiana Holmes, Jenny Mollet and SandyRedd as Soul Singers, Brian Golub, Garfield Hammonds and SandyRedd as Peter’s Accusers, David Andre, Sara Andreas, Wesley J. Barnes, Brian Golub, Brittany Rose Hammond, Garfield Hammonds, Quiana Holmes, Darrell T. Joe, Sheila Jones, Jacob Lacopo, Eric A. Lewis, Paul Louis Lessard, Tommy McDowell, Jenny Mollet, Sarah Parker, Erick Patrick, SandyRedd and Chelsea Williams as The Ensemble.

The show is Directed by Timothy Sheader, Choreographed by Drew McOnie, Scenic, Hair and Costume Design by Tom Scott, Music Supervising by Tom Deering, Lighting Design by Lee Curran and Sound Design by Keith Caggiano and Nick Lidster.

The traveling orchestra consists of Music Director Shawn Gough (Keyboard I), Associate Conductor Mathew Croft (Keyboard II), Randall Klitz (Bass), Mike Frederick (Guitar I) Nick Dickerson (Guitar II), Tony De Augustine (Drums), Anson Carroll (French Horn), Joey Pero (Trumpet), Emma Stanley (Trumpet II and Keyboard III), Joe LaRocca (Woodwinds) and Craig Watson (Trombones/Tuba).

Jesus Christ Superstar is epic rock opera at its best and this touring cast and orchestra does it proud. The show is quite dark as it is about the days leading up to the crucifixion which is not exactly light subject matter. In spite of that you will find yourself swept away by the music and choreography.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” will be on stage in the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio through February 20, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.

For information on the current theater Covid protocols go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/plan-your-visit-main/health-safety

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.