URO Rocks ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Norwood Theatre (4.5 stars)
by Mike Hoban
“Jesus Christ Superstar” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Produced and Directed by Sal Clemente and Alan Ware. At the Norwood Theatre, 109 Central St., Norwood, MA through March 22, Friday and Saturday 8PM, Sunday @ 2:00 PM. See www.NorwoodStage.com.
There are some things in life that when you were a kid, you thought were completely awesome and it was inconceivable that you wouldn’t always think of them as being so; but as you grew older, you found out that they really weren’t so hot – like Bozo the Clown and Lucky Charms cereal. Not so with “Jesus Christ Superstar” – the early effort from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that is still not only my favorite musical theater piece but also one of my favorite rock albums. Sal Clemente, co-founder of The Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra (URO), thankfully shares my passion for the work and he and his band mates have brought a terrific staging of the show to the newly renovated Norwood Theatre for this weekend only.
“A lot of the philosophical and emotional attachment I have for “Jesus Christ Superstar” comes from being a 10-year old kid and discovering it in my parent’s record collection,” said Clemente before the show. “For people my age (he’s 50-ish), it was that record. It wasn’t the movie. It wasn’t a pop song on the radio, it was a record telling a story, and it was that whole album. I would put it on the turntable, put the headphones on and just get blown away by it.” And Clemente’s passion for this work still shows in this production. You don’t have to be traveling down memory lane to enjoy this musical blast of Christ’s last days of doubt and betrayal. URO takes out the album, blows off the dust and gives it a fresh life. One note: This is not a “play” so much as a musical celebration of the album. There are no period costumes, (although URO members wear their trademark Rock n’ Roll get-ups, including hot rock chick gear). If you want to see a Broadway-style production, you can go the West Concord Theatre next weekend and see a traditional performance. But that doesn’t not mean it’s not theatrical, as the singers act out their parts with great drama and interact as if they were staging this for Broadway.
URO, whose calling card is re-interpreting rock classics by the Who, Led Zeppelin Beatles, Bowie and Queen and making them their own, does a slam bang interpretation of this album with a dozen singers and a top-notch band. It all starts with Jesus – and I mean that in a completely non-secular way.
Kyle Martin looks the part and does as good a job vocally as I have seen in any production (and I’ve seen many productions of this piece) and his acting chops are pretty solid too, as he endures the humiliations of Jesus’ trial and punishment. The real test of any “Superstar” Jesus comes in the defining “Gethsemane”, and his interpretation is mind-blowing. Clemente, too steps up to the plate in the other “starring” role as Judas, and he is especially good in the opening “Heaven on Their Minds” and the closing “Jesus Christ Superstar” number. The other featured role is Mary Magdalene, and Fatima Elmi belts out a heart-wrenching rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” as the redeemed prostitute.
If you’re expecting a note-for-note reproduction of this album, you won’t be getting it, but you will see some clever and subtle re-interpretations of the songs, including a re-working of “Everything’s Alright” with an interesting change to the cadence of the song. As strong as the leads are, much of the joy for me in this show came from the smaller parts, particularly Anthony Correia as Pontius Pilate, who simply owns the maniacally gleeful sneering of the Roman Prefect. Christie Beaulieu does a revved-up rendition of Simon Zealotes, as she enthusiastically exhorts Jesus to kick up his promotional game a notch, although I’ll probably never hear the song again without thinking of a sexy Simon in fishnet stockings. Andrew Schwartz (a new addition to URO for this show) is dynamite as the deep-throated Caiphas, and Michael Leonard is a funny and convincing King Herod. The scenes/numbers with the full cast singing mines URO’s real strength – their deep vocal talent – and they really knock it out of the park on “Hosanna” and “The Temple/Lepers”.
Whether you grew up with this record on your turntable or have never experienced what happens when Rock n Roll meets Broadway head on – this is a great take for rock or theater fans.
For more, see www.NorwoodStage.com.