The audience is buzzing as they takes their seats. Psychedelic lights bounce around the curtains as the overture for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR begins. As the curtain rises, we are greeted with the site of a crumbling, ancient temple. Twelve men and a woman greet Jesus and gather in a familial circle. One voice, however, cries out above—Judas. The way his voice moves through riffs and ranges, it cuts directly through the air and gives us goosebumps. We know this isn’t going to be another run of the mill musical.
Paramount Theater Mounts a Rock Opera
Originally staged at the same time as the Vietnam War in the 1970s, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR held a political message. Focusing on the later years in Jesus’ life, we are treated to the inner workings of the characters’ minds. What was Judas feeling that led him to betray Jesus? How did Jesus feel when he knew he had to die? What about Mary Magdalene? And Peter? Or Simon?
The story take us deeper and deeper into their psyches. Meanwhile, the political climate around this King of the Jews is growing more and more tense. Jesus’ popularity threatens the status quo of the high priests in power. These high priests, led by Caiaphas, decide Jesus must die and just their luck, Judas is in the mindset to deliver Jesus right into their waiting hands. We are then taken through the sentencing, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
The power of this show comes from the actors’ vocal talents Each song of this sung-through musical is filled with passion and feeling. Their voices expand and carry throughout the entire theater. When each actor is given the chance to shine in a solo, we see each of these characters and how their lives intertwined with Jesus.
Jesus, played by Evan Tyrone Martin, bares his soul during his lament in the Garden of Gethsemane. We feel his anger and suffering, one long sustained note after another before he collapses.
Felicia Boswell playing Mary Magadalene channels her inner Beyonce (think Lemonade and the Yoruba goddess Oshun). She expresses her caring and devotion to Jesus. She’s seen by his side in almost every scene. She’s not just an accessory, she’s a main figure in his life.
King Herod, played by Avionce Hoyles absolutely makes this character his own and is a true scene stealer. His attitude, larger than life personality, and adoring servants make his throne the perfect and fitting accessory.
Another superstar alongside Jesus is Mykal Kilgore playing Judas. His strong and commanding voice, combined with his portrayal of Judas’ internal struggle, makes us feel his pain and desperation. And when he comes back for the rousing eleven o’clock number “Superstar” he leads it magnificently.
All in the Subtle Details
Director Ron Kellum has included so many details that elevate this musical. There’s the strong subtext of immigrants being deported, the link between the den of thieves and the high priest, among other subtle modern references. With an all Black cast and our current political state, this production carries that same political intent as the original musical, also giving these artists the space to shine in their own right.
The lighting and costume designs also work well to bring Kellum’s vision to life. The lighting by Greg Hofmann adds just the right touch without overwhelming the show. The costumes by Theresa Ham feel like they’re inspired by Kanye and other modern, influential artists. No one’s wearing robes or sandals like they’ve been out in the desert all day.
All of these choices bring JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR into the present day. It’s a must see for long time lovers of the musical looking for a new, unique spin on it and for anyone willing to be blown away by the stunning voices of this cast. This powerful and moving musical hits every mark.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Now through May 28
Wednesday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm
Thursday at 7:00pm
Friday at 8:00pm
Saturday at 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Sunday at 1:00pm and 5:30pm
The Paramount Theatre
23 E Galena Blvd.
Aurora, IL 60506