When the lights dimmed Wednesday, April 14 night in Casella Theatre, the full house whispered in anticipation. The Castleton production of Jesus Christ Superstar gathered huge audiences this past week and it wasn’t just Soundings students in attendance. With a thirty-six-person cast, flashing lights and power ballads this show was bound to attract the numbers.Written by Tim Rice with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, this play was made famous in the 1970s. The rock opera is based on St John’s Gospel account of the last week of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preparation for Jesus’ and his disciples’ arrival in Jerusalem and ending with his Crucifixion.
Even as the play is written for a slow lead in the first scenes, I had the impression that that wasn’t the only factor in the low energy exuded in the first half of the opening act. Up to this point, I’m sure that the audience was as well aware as the actors that there were some technical difficulties-namely the first three scenes were inaudible.
Despite the slow beginning, the talent on the Castleton campus became clearly evident in the second half of the first act following through to the end. The turning point for me was when Brette Tucker, playing Mary Magdalene, came on stage. Not only did she strike me as being fully in character, but also her voice was deserving of a bigger stage. With her solo, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” later in the act, Tucker had not only stolen the stage but carried the show as well.
While the “Superstar,” Jesus was played by Castleton graduate James Lorentz, I felt that his singing was the most problematic in the scheme of the show. Exiting the show the response most heard to his voice was, “why was Jesus so whiny?” It’s not to say that the passion of Lorentz’s performance was lacking for certainly it was not-anyone who witnessed his dramatic depiction of Christ’s crucifixion was shaken. But the overall tone of his voice seemed off and it seemed to have an effect on the rest of the cast.
Although I enjoyed the character work that Morgan Bernhard did in creating his sulking and seemingly jealous Judas, his own vocals were definitely detracted by an overly loud orchestra or a faulty microphone. Of what I was able to hear, he nailed the power ballads so it was a shame that his voice was lost on some of the audience members.
There were three other male performers who caught the attention of my ears and they were Thomas Walker playing Caiphas, Thomas Townsend-Pitt playing Annas, and Mark Baglione playing Pontius Pilate. All three of these men had voices that, like Tucker, deserved a bigger stage and a bigger audience. Whenever any one of these performers was on stage, I found myself not only more interested in the scene but also more clearly understanding it thanks to their colossal and articulate voices.
The challenge of performing Jesus Christ Superstar is not an easy one. Overall, the cast and the crew stepped up to the challenge and offered it a real one, two punch. As anyone in the audience can attest to, Castleton State College obviously has a tremendous amount of talent to pull this show off the way it was done.