Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jesus Christ Superstar

Musical theater has a tradition known as the '11th hour number.'

It comes about midway through the second act, when the audience may be getting tired of sitting for so long. It may be bright and funny, or emotionally stirring. It's designed to make you sit up and start tapping your toes, or perhaps whisper 'Wow!' to your companion.

If a show isn't doing well, the 11th hour number can make you forget all the bad stuff that came before.

The 11th hour number in the Davis Musical Theatre Company production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera, 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' is 'Herod's Song.' Paul Fearn's Herod - dressed in an outlandish zoot suit that must be seen to be believed, and backed by a colorful assortment of dancers - easily steals the show.

Following tradition, 'Herod's Song' actually marks a turning point and seems to rouse everybody on stage.

This is one of the things to like in this production, which covers Jesus' life from Palm Sunday to his crucifixion.

Steve Isaacson's direction is satisfactory and appropriate: The action takes place on an essentially bare stage with a platform, all in front of the onstage orchestra, which has been let out of the pit. The production has some beautiful moments, such as the Last Supper and the final tableau, which is breathtaking.

Rand Martin's choreography is delightful; all the ensemble numbers work and are executed quite well. The Palm Sunday number, 'Hosanna,' is a lot of fun.

Jean Henderson's costumes always enchant, and she has outdone herself with Herod and his entourage.

The chorus members are well rehearsed and sound quite good, and we're willing to forgive the fact that most of the Apostles are female.

Some of the minor players are excellent. Eimi Stokes draws great applause as Simon, in 'Simon Zealotes.' Adam Sartain's Annas is noteworthy, and Andy Hyun (Caiaphas) has a marvelous bass voice ... although the music occasionally dips too low even for him.

Tony Osladil is memorable as the anguished Pontius Pilate, who wants to wash his hands of the whole business - 'If this man is harmless, why does he upset you?' - but ultimately is forced to send Jesus to his death.

All that said, this show's success rests on the big three: Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene.

Judas is falling apart, because he fears that this man he has followed and loved is becoming a stranger, and is being influenced by the adulation of the crowds. Judas also is concerned about the deepening relationship between Jesus and Mary, a woman of questionable virtue.

Judas comes to believe the only way he can stop what he sees happening, is to collaborate with the enemies of Jesus and assist in his capture.

I've wrestled with how to handle my commentary about Judas. Given that this is community theater, with a volunteer cast of amateurs - people doing this for the love of it - it may be best to give this particular actor the benefit of the doubt, and hope that I caught him at a bad time.

The opening night performance was so bad that I've decided not to embarrass the actor by publishing his name.

I imagine this is what Jesus would have done, under similar circumstances.

I wanted so badly for this actor to be good ... or at least to get better, as the show progressed after its excruciatingly painful opening number. But he didn't, and it hurt to listen to him, although he certainly put heart and soul into the character's anguish.

David Holmes' Jesus is best during his quiet moments. His voice is beautiful and controlled, but during the more intense scenes he tends to shriek, often winding up off-key. Holmes did, however, improve throughout the opening night performance.

One can only hope, as he settles into the role, that he'll control his musical emotional outbursts as well as he handles his tender moments. He obviously has the ability to do so.

Emily Cannon-Brown makes a lovely Mary Magdalene, obviously in love with Jesus, but not certain how to handle a relationship with this man, the likes of whom she never has encountered. Sadly, Cannon-Brown also tends to be shrill, and she occasionally wanders off-key during her songs' most emotional moments.

Actually, even the technical end of things seemed not quite ready on opening night, with a body microphone or two that went off and on with irritating regularity, and some steps that initially weren't anchored; I worried every time someone used them.

All told, this show is uneven. I'm hard-pressed to say whether the good outweighs the bad. If Holmes can better modulate his more intense moments, he and Fearn (Herod) would make this 'Jesus Christ Superstar' worth seeing.

And let's just hope Judas improves as the run continues.


Anonymous said...

i would like to peacefully disagree with you on the actor who plays Judas. I think he is an excellent actor and a good singer. Opening night is never an actor's best show, and he deserves another chance. If you had come Sunday, it would have been a better show. Give them some time to work the kinks out.

Bev Sykes said...

Do you charge less on opening night because the actors aren't going to be as good?

Nick Thompson said...

You do realize that not mentioning my name out of concern actually acheives the opposite goal of making the review personal instead of only putting down the performance, right?

I have 2 complementary tickets, from Nick Thompson, waiting for you if you feel inclined to give myself and the rest of the cast another shot. As mentioned in the first comment, Sunday was an excellent show.

Giorgio Selvaggio said...

I'm hesitant about whether I should leave a comment since I've done shows with DMTC, but I should note beforehand that I don't personally know the guy playing Judas. So, if I stick up for him, it's not because I hope to gain anything personally.

I was there opening night and thought Judas was great. No bias, that's just how I felt. I don't think you're being unfair, like the anonymous comment above implies, but I do also "peacefully disagree". I imagine it's difficult to simultaneously juggle the tragic downfall of Judas Iscariot and the upbeat musical numbers of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, but I really felt like this actor nailed it. I'm actually quite confused as to why you thought he was so bad. He was a standout in my eyes. In fact, I thought his finale was the was the true "11th hour," although Paul Fearn was brilliant in his pimp outfit.

I won't agree or disagree with you about the other actors in the show, since most of them are my friends or at least close acquaintances. In the case of Judas, however, I feel like I can offer an unbiased opinion. I'll respect yours if you respect mine. :)


Anonymous said...

The biggest issue I have with your assessment of Judas is that you fail to explain what you thought made the performance "bad." Saying things such as "the performance... was so bad" and "it hurt to listen" without justification is vague and uninformative, almost to the point of being derogatory. I would expect a more rational description from someone claiming to have a professional eye in theatre.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is a rock opera. The role of Judas is meant to be played by a rock tenor. A rock tenor has a different style compared to a tenor from, say, a Rodgers & Hammerstein show. Nick's vocals are very strong, and work well with the background of the orchestra's rock & roll elements. His jamming during the title number is particularly spectacular. It doesn't matter what night you see him - he is outstanding.

(Interestingly, you seem to back-paddle a bit with the remark about putting his "heart and soul" into the character's emotion. I'd say that speaks well to his acting ability.)

Andy Hyun (with an N) said...

I do appreciate the positive mention. However, I would ask that you take care to spell names properly when writing a public review.

Anonymous said...

Bev Sykes said...
"Do you charge less on opening night because the actors aren't going to be as good?"
You've got to be kidding me. There are critques and then there are cheap shots. Professional critics know the difference. The first half of the review was fine, the second half scraped by... but with the above comment, you've lost all credibility in my eyes.

Personally, I haven't seen the show yet, but I will soon. I know a few people who went on Sunday to see it, and from what I have heard, they enjoyed themselves a great deal. I'm really looking forward to seeing JCS.

Your review is actually making me more excited to see it. For instance, using descriptors like "shriek" and "shrill" to disdainfully review a rock opera? Frankly, the more shriek, the better. It's not supposed to sound pleasant. Musicals deal more with style and substance; rock operas deal more with raw emotive force, and a few wrong notes or vocal impurities shouldn't worry someone looking for overall effect.

Do yourself a favor: take the two tickets offered to you by the guy playing Judas, and give JCS another chance. If your comment is any indication of your mindset, then I'd also ask you to leave your prejudgments in the lobby trash can, next to the refreshment stand (which, by the way, has some good cookies).

Alec Clayton said...

"Do you charge less on opening night" was the perfect response.

Someone said, "There are critques and then there are cheap shots. Professional critics know the difference." Maybe this person hasn't read many theater critics. Some that I read regularly are so snarky as to make Bev sound shy. BTW, I am a professional critic in the Seattle area. I haven't seen this particular performance.

Anonymous said...

The idea that the lead vocals need to be unpleasant to hear because it's a "rock opera" is absurd. I think the review is fair.

Anonymous said...

"'Do you charge less on opening night' was the perfect response."

Perhaps it was the wittiest possible response, but it was far from perfect.

I agree with Bev on the sentiment of it: actors are obligated to be as strong on opening night, as they are going to be for the entire run. The statement in the first comment, while misguided, appeared to be a harmless disagreement and did not merit a response with biting sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
The idea that the lead vocals need to be unpleasant to hear because it's a "rock opera" is absurd. I think the review is fair.
You show me where I said that in my comment. It's not a matter of unpleasantness. It's a matter of dissonance and rawness, of which slightly wrong notes and shrillness can be factors.

I merely said that rock operas and garden variety musicals have a different focus, much in the same way that "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" by Elvis Presley has a different focus than, say, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. To say that Robert Plant (the singer for Led Zeppelin) needs to sound smoother in his delivery or hit the notes more accurately would be demeaning to his feeling of the song. And maybe Judas, Jesus, and Mary wish to feel the song in a different way than Bev wants to hear it, but she shouldn't ding them points for that.

As far as the "opening night" response that other people have commented on, I just think it was a cheap shot, period. I understand other critics may use this technique more frequently and with more vigor than Bev, but that still doesn't make it something acceptable or justifyable. This is a small theatre company trying to make pleasant diversions for the community, and comments about getting some sort of discount for an opening night could make Bev appear to be quite the miser and unsupportive of local arts programs, even though I know she goes to these regularly and is supportive. She should be more careful.

Anonymous said...

You show me where I said that in my comment. It's not a matter of unpleasantness. Okay. Please see here: using descriptors like "shriek" and "shrill" to disdainfully review a rock opera? Frankly, the more shriek, the better. It's not supposed to sound pleasant. The comment was clearly an attempt to excuse things that sound bad as an artistic choice appropriate to the medium. I think Bev is qualified to discern the difference between bad and "rock".

Bev Sykes said...

For comparison, please see the rave review I gave the last DMTC production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Anonymous said...

The comment was clearly an attempt to excuse things that sound bad as an artistic choice appropriate to the medium. I think Bev is qualified to discern the difference between bad and "rock".I'm not excusing a "bad" performance. I just feel that "bad" and "good" are relative. If they weren't and the world was black-and-white, we wouldn't need critics in the first place.

Bev may be qualified to discern the difference between "bad" and "rock" in her own opinion (and she is very much entitled to that opinion), but anyone in the world is qualified to be a critic from their own viewpoint. What is bad to her may be something I'll enjoy immensely, and I'm planning on testing that theory very soon when I go to see the play.

All of my commentary on this blog has just been to put my opinion down about her review (and especially her first comment). Take it or leave it. But if she has to offer negatives about a rock opera, she should (IN MY OPINION) use better reasons than saying the singer was shrill/shrieking.

Nick Thompson said...


I have read your review of DMTC's 2004 production of Superstar. In fact, upon reading it, I e-mailed Steve Isaacson to ask if there is a tape of that show.

His response was, "I don't want you to change a thing."

It is clear that Brian McCann (2004 Judas) and I have different singing styles. Unfortunately, I can't determine if that is the main reason for the destructive review, since you chose not to cite any specifics about the performance.

It would be helpful to me if you could do so now.

Bev Sykes said...

Nick, you were off key. Consistently throughout the show. The more emotional you became, the farther off key you went. It was painful to listen to.

Anonymous said...

.....once again, in your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'll be another anonymous poster--

I have sung most of my life--in choirs, solo work, barbershop quartets, operetta (and I'd like to do more opera!).

To begin: there may be a few moments where Nick is a bit flat, but I've found the majority of his performance to be fine.

It should be noted that the "feet and hair" note is sung from his knees--this should give him some points.

My impression is that you, Bev, let a few moments (which were jarring for you) color your view of most of his performance (and not just his, but the other two leads as well, perhaps).

On another note, David was a bit wonky on his high notes the first night, but that was the first time I'd ever heard him wobble on those high notes, and I put it down to the nervousness concomitant with opening night. On opening night, he applied more force to the notes than he usually does, and this probably caused him to wobble a bit--Saturday was much improved.

Since opening night was the first time I'd ever heard him wobble, it suggests that opening night carries pressures with it that can throw off hitherto consistent performances and performers. I would say it's a trade off, however: perhaps the performances are more raw and emotional the first time out?

Speaking of emotion: I find Nick's performance as an actor to be outstanding. His choreography is exceedingly difficult, and his role is probably the most demanding role in the show--since it involves intense acting, singing, and dancing.

To Nick: I'm consistently impressed with the professional way in which you handle situations: without getting angry, etc. I thought that both of your responses to Bev were very professional and appropriate.

I hope that you return to see our show again, Bev, and that you are able to set aside the moments which fluster you so you can enjoy every other moment.

Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Question: what is the relevance of pointing to a previous review that just happened to be positive? When you've published negative opinions in the past, those opinions were at least backed up with why you had them. And in those cases, you had no problem with printing names, as well you shouldn't.

This time, not only have you not justified such a radical opinion (you may have done so here, but that will not appear in the Enterprise), but as Nick said, you've attacked him on a personal level. This goes beyond panning his theatrical ability, suggesting that he as an individual does not deserve to be stood with his peers.

What's the point? When people go see the show, they'll learn his name anyway. And for those who do not attend or follow theatre, why would they even care?

Since you are in the business of providing criticism, I can assume that you are open to receiving it. While we respect your right to express differing opinions, we will appreciate it if you use tact and professionalism in delivering them.

Anonymous said...

Having not seen the show, I can't comment on the actor who plays Judas. I am shocked, though, by comments from the cast and other persons involved in the production in response to a negative review. Bad reviews happen. As one commenter said, they are one person's opinion. Why people think it's appropriate to leave message after message on this forum - challenging and calling out the reviewer and forcing her to become more specific (and only resulting in further negatives about the actor's performance) - is a mystery to me. If the actor underperformed...well that's the risk one takes when they audition for a major and demanding role like Judas. If the actor isn't ready for such a role yet...well, then the director shouldn't have cast him. It's amazingly unprofessional to have members of the cast/crew posting challenges and "critiques" of the reviewer. Rather than saving face, it only further exposes amateurism. Accept the review, focus on improving the show, and move on. I hope the people involved realize that this review is probably more widely read online than in the paper. It popped up on Google, at least. At any rate, this is one show I probably won't be seeing - and not because of the review...because of the responses to it.

Nick Thompson said...

I think everyone was so quick to jump to my defense because the review was intentionally set apart from a normal, everyday bad review by omitting my name. I have never seen that before, and I fear that the uniqueness of this review may have cost the rest of the cast the chance to perform in front of the packed houses that their talent would otherwise dictate.

That said, I have set a high standard for my own performance and being off-key at all is unacceptable. There are 9 shows left, and I hope that you and Bev both choose to attend one. I am working hard to ensure that what is seen and heard this weekend bears no resemblance to what was written about opening night.

Elizabeth Madrone said...

I have a few things to say about this.

Firstly, Bev is correct for the large majority of her reviews and responses. Opening night or not, performances should ALWAYS be at their best - audiences shouldn't expect less simply because it's the casts first time through. In fact, they should expect more.

And yes, Nick WAS off-key at several instances for the opening performance - you didn't have to have perfect pitch to hear it.


I think that Nick's performance as a whole has been SO unfairly outspoken that I'd like to rectify that right now.

I have been a musical theatre director, performer, and audience member alike, for many years of my life. I've seen countless productions across the country, including at least 4 of JC Superstar. And regardless of certain aspects of his vocal performance, Thompson gave a WONDERFUL portrayal of Judas.

I definitely felt his expression and strains as genuine, and he nailed some of the nuances others failed to. The emotional journey of this character is a difficult one - but Thompson played it with ease. All in all, Nick gave a great acting performance - and minus the tune-changing nerves of opening night, I am certain he will get better as time goes on.

This show is DEFINITELY still worth your time. Period.

Nick's notes may have been off-key, but his acting definitely struck a beautiful chord to me.

Anonymous said...

I would like to state that I was there on opening night. The voices of Judas and Jesus did not fare well that evening. In contrast was the superb voice of Mary Magdalene.

Anonymous said...

Wow Bev, did you forget this is a community theater with actors working FOR FREE and the love of theater? Your review just makes you sound like a bitter hack.

Noel said...

I have been a performer, board member, and patron of DMTC since 1996. Additionally, my husband and I have donated a lot of money to the theater (and we will continue to do so).
A bad review hurts (like the time my husband had "windmill arms" grrrr!), but it usually doesn't effect the one thing that counts:
Season Ticket Holders.
This is where the majority of the funds come from. No disrespect to Bev, but most of them don't read the Enterprise, let alone the theater reviews.
DMTC is not just for the actors, but it is also for the people who attend. Will this review hurt the bottom line? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've learned so much from these comments. If it's opening night, it's not fair to expect a good performance. Vocal quality in a rock musical is supposed to be unpleasant. You can't blame a performer for choosing to interpret a role poorly. Fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Someone's Review on See-a-PlaySeems like the "bitter hack" held back.

Bev Sykes said...

I wish my "bitter hack" Anonymous commentator could have seen last night's opening of "Oklahoma!" on campus to see what a bunch of full time students, many of whom aren't even theatre majors could produce, for free, for the love of theatre. There wasn't a single member of that cast who was looking for an excuse to give a poor performance because they were "tired."

Marc said...

There are enough differences between university and community theater shows as to make comparisons hazardous. Although the university students are generally not paid, they are surrounded by professionals who are (and they have bigger budgets, etc.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. What is most amazing to me is the level of unprofessionalism from the cast or crew of the DMTC production in responding to an unflattering review. Folks, for better or worse, you chose to be in the production. You chose to be on stage and in doing so, your performance will be critiqued. Take your criticism and grow up! Otherwise, you will never get off the DMTC stage and on to anything better.
And anonymous - i'm not sure where you are going to see "rock operas" but on the New York stage, "shriek" "shrill" or "off key" have no place.

Steve Isaacson said...

Dear anonymous who posted above:

This is Steve Isaacson, Co-Producer of DMTC, I will never post a comment on any site without giving my name. To "Wow..." your comments look very similar to the comments on seeaplay.com, perhaps you are the same person, any rate, if you have the courage to post your name please do so, or you may email me directly at: steve@dmtc.org

we can certainly take criticism, most of these comments are NOT from cast members or people directly involved with DMTC.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Steve Isaacson
Co-producer, DMTC

Mr. Smith said...

this is all entertaining but a tad ridiculous, theatre is subjective, we all have our opinions, so let Bev have hers.

Rand Martin said...

I appreciate your kind comments about the choreography. I have been remiss in clarifying the record: the number you called "a lot of fun" (which is actually called "Simon Zealotes" in the score) was choreographed by my superb colleague, Pam Lourentzos, and it is indeed a lot of fun. She was a great teammate in all of the choreography.