Review: “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Junior College’s Theatre Arts Department closes out their second season ‘on the road’ with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. With the Burbank Auditorium still undergoing renovations, the Maria Carrillo High School theatre hosts this production through May 5.

Director Leslie McCauley has gathered a multi-generational cast to tell Webber and Rice’s very loose interpretation of the last days of Jesus Christ set to a pounding rock score. Guest Artist Phillip Percy Williams has been brought in to essay the title role – and he’s excellent – but the lead character in this piece is actually Judas Iscariot. Noah Sternhill, last seen as Lord Farquaad in the JC’s production of Shrek, the Musical, tears up the stage as the man whose name has become synonymous with ‘traitor’ but whose character is given a lot more shading in Webber and Rice’s world.

Noah Sternhill, Phillip Percy Williams

Those vocals were generally excellent under the vocal direction of Joshua Bailey. Williams, a twelve-year veteran of San Francisco’s Bleach Blanket Babylon revue, knows his way around a song and gets several opportunities to prove it. His rendition of “Gethsemane” is wrenching. Sternhill matches him from the get-go with “Heaven on Their Minds”. Ariana LaMark does well by the show’s most popular number – “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – though her Mary Magdalene seemed curiously disconnected from the goings on. There’s great character work from Anthony Martin as Pontius Pilate, Michael Arbitter as Caiaphas, and Riley Craig makes quite an impression as a Liberace-esque King Herod.

The show’s technical elements are very strong. Scenic Designer Peter Crompton has the events taking place on a utilitarian set of scaffolds and columns that’s well enhanced by Vincent Mothersbaugh’s lighting. Maryanne Scozzari’s very striking costuming is a mix of grunge, militaristic and futuristic looks with a dash of Las Vegas lounge-wear thrown in at the end.

Music Director Janis Dunson Wilson and a nine-piece band do a great job with the music and there’s some excellent guitarwork by Ian Scherer. Sound quality is an issue in this venue, though, with the band drowning out some vocals.  

Neither blasphemous nor slavishly pious, Jesus Christ Superstar can be seen as an interesting look at the culture of celebrity, the fickle nature of followers, and the hypocrisy of those in leadership roles. Sound relevant?

 Rating (Out of Five): ★★★★

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ runs through May 5 at Maria Carrillo High School Theatre, 6975 Montecito Blvd., Santa Rosa. Recommended for ages 12 and above. Thursday -Saturday, 7:30 pm; Saturday & Sunday, 1:30 pm; $10–$22. 707.527.4307. theatrearts.santarosa.edu

Photos by Jeff Thomas

This review originally ran after being run through a Cuisinart in the North Bay Bohemian.

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