Garden's `Superstar' brings its own miracles

Play: Director Mike Gilles' staging of the rock opera matches the actors' superb performances.


June 08, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With limited footage and an open-air setting defining the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's physical space, it is no surprise that productions there tend to be dominated by talented performers rather than spectacular staging.

As I walked into the theater Saturday evening to take in ASGT's current production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and saw the spartan set with its multileveled black piping more reminiscent of "West Side Story" fire escapes than of the Holy Land under Roman occupation, I had no reason to believe that trend was about to change.

It turns out, though, that director Mike Gilles has entered thoroughly into the story content of this much-loved Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera by working a few miracles of his own.

Gilles' renderings of the afflicted begging to be healed and of the crucifixion yielded the most affecting set of images I've ever witnessed on the Summer Garden stage. Those scenes alone would be worth the price of a ticket.

The cast truly comes up roses, anchored by Joe and John Rose, the brothers who bring Jesus and Judas to life with immense conviction and flair. Each is a model of on-stage energy and commitment, and neither is intimidated a whit by the demands of Lloyd Webber's confoundedly difficult writing for the solo male voice.

Joe Rose brings all the dignity you could want to the role of Jesus, even as the agonizing existential questions weigh down his character's human persona.

The folk-rock "Gethsemane" sequence is profoundly sad and lyrical, but when it's time to unleash the power (as in the exchange with Judas at the Last Supper), the intensity level goes off the chart.

Brother John's Judas is a bundle of conflicting impulses from first to last, with the tortured screams of the rock 'n' roll writing coming through loud and clear. I'm acquainted with all the recorded versions of "Superstar," and the younger Rose is a better singer than any of those Broadway or West End types.

Other attractions include Matt Stevenson as a hilariously swishy Herod and Ronny Schronce, who truly rocks the house as Simon Zealotes. I also admired Chuck Babiera's evocation of Pilate's dream, and I encourage him to do even more with the wordplay in his epic confrontation with Jesus.

Terri Madden cuts a lovely figure as Mary Magdalene, and her "Could We Start Again Please?" duet is exceptional. Alas, the relaxing power of Mary's "Everything's Alright" is compromised by a speedy recorded tempo that makes the song sound downright frenetic.

Performances are Thursdays through Sundays until June 24 at the theater at 143 Compromise St. Curtain is 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10; $8 for senior citizens and students.

Information: 410-268-9212.

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