reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

The Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice production of Jesus Christ Superstar originally was developed as a rock opera concept record album in 1970 and debuted on Broadway just one year later. Loosely based on the Gospel accounts of the last seven days of Jesus’ life, it begins with his arrival in Jerusalem and ends with his crucifixion.

As the show opens, apostle Judas Iscariot (Michael Lipphardt) serves as the opposite coin to Jesus. He is concerned that Jesus’ followers will be perceived as a threat to the occupying Roman Empire. The priests Caiaphas (Lot Turner) and Annas (Kate Ewigleben) with others, gather and agree that Jesus and his movement must be crushed. Jesus (Onis Dean) arrives in Jerusalem only to find the temple filled with unsavory merchants and money lenders. Overrun by a flood of people needing his help, he tells them to heal themselves, and his confidante Mary Magdalene (Pearl Scott) has to calm him down. Judas, fearing the movement is getting out of control, goes to the Romans and tells them Jesus will be in the Garden of Gethsemane the following night. He receives 30 pieces of silver as payment. At the Garden, Judas arrives with Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus by kissing him on the cheek. Jesus is arrested and sent to Caiaphas (Lot Turner) then Pontius Pilate (Jeremy Crouch) and finally King Herod (Rick Barber), before being sent back to Pilate and condemned by the crowd.

Onis Dean (center) takes the role of Jesus in Mud Creek Players’ production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

While many may assume Jesus Christ is the musical’s main character, it is really Judas’ story. Judas, in all accounts, is driven to betray Jesus, “I’ve been used!” History solidifies him as a traitor and a coward, but the musical offers a more sympathetic portrayal. Like Jesus, Judas gathers his loyalties and destiny, and pays the ultimate price for his actions.

The production cast of 40, with a small ensemble orchestra of 5, seemed a bit crowded at times and left little room for the leads to maneuver on stage. There were some sound and lighting issues during the opening Saturday night that should work themselves out. Mr. Webber was kind enough, apparently, to create an alternative orchestration for a 5-piece band which was very effectively balanced with the vocals in this performance. However, there were times, during the overture for example, when the band needed increased intensity and volume to create a more dynamic impact.

This vocally challenging rock opera is a huge endeavor for any community theatre but I enjoyed this production and thought the vocals were quite good. The ensemble was enthusiastic and energized. Onis Dean is ​phenomenal as Jesus. His demeanor and impressively clear tenor range draws us in, and shows off his range, whether he’s screaming at the vendors in the temple or displaying his lightly placed falsetto of emotion in Gethsemane.

Pearl Scott as Mary Magdalene and Austin Stodghill as Peter in Mud Creek Players’ production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Pearl Scott is beautiful and has the grace and tenderness Mary needs. Her introspective rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was moving and was a highlight of the show. Michael Lipphardt, as Judas, had some wonderful moments, played with intensity and conviction, but at times the vocals, as challenging they are, were abrasive and pitchy. Herod (Rick Barber), Pilate (Jeremy Crouch), Peter (Austin Stodghill) handled their roles well. I especially liked the low notes of Lot Turner as Caiaphas and the contrasting treble of Kate Ewigleben as Annas. They complemented each other nicely as the menacing villains (plus I liked their costumes). My stand- out character was Apostle Simon played by Eli Robinson. He was intriguing to watch and had some great vocal moments.

The Last Supper scene begins the second act of Mud Creek Players’ production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Together, director Michelle Moore and musical director Linda Parr have created a very special production with some interesting nuances, such as the five slithery demons in all-black which haunted Judas and the acappella fade out at the end of the show. Set designer Jay Ganz did an excellent job in creatively using the whole space and incorporating the musicians. You can tell this production was a team effort.

Jesus Christ Superstar is selling out fast, so get your tickets now. The show runs April 18 – May 4 for Mud Creek Players, 9740 E 86th St, Indianapolis IN. For tickets – call 317-290-5343 or visit http://www.mudcreekplayers.org.

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