It opens in the dark.
We hear voices talking, laughing, getting closer, the shuffling of feet as a group of people enter the space. A single flashlight beam penetrates the blackness, then another, and we see a troupe of young people entering a long-abandoned theatre. They move around the space as the overture begins, still primarily in darkness. One of the actors lies on the stage, working with the footlights, which – FLASH – come on, illuminating the stage.
And there was light. And they saw it was good.
They find costume pieces. They put them on. Two actors find jackets they particularly like, but there’s a struggle. Who gets the fringed jacket, who gets the black leather jacket? The man in fringe is forced to give up his prize to another, who almost physically lights up with the power of the light blue suede. The original man, robbed of his fringe, puts on the black leather, and his face becomes a mask of resentment. He has become Judas to the fringed man’s Jesus.
And the show begins.
That’s the opening of GLOW Lyric Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing at Centre Stage this weekend. It’s a stripped-down and energetic staging that emphasizes Andrew Lloyd Webber's music over spectacle, with mostly terrific results.
Director Jenna Tamislea gives us a mostly bare set – a battered proscenium arch with torn curtains and a scaffold our only real anchors. A couple of costume racks give the actors, who have “found” this old space, the chance to enact the musical. It’s a fun conceit that works well for the material, allowing the music to really speak for itself.
Anderson Daniel leads a solid ensemble as Jesus. He is young and appealing and, when he unleashes it in the second act, has a powerful voice. Felipe Bombonato is a brooding, tortured Judas who also finds a fantastic second act showcase with his bravado turn in “Superstar.” Ashley Kerr may fare best among the singers with her warm renditions of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Could We Start Again.” DeMar Neal is hilarious as Herod in a fabulous number that, frankly, had some audience members covering their mouths in shock. Will Ragland is another standout as a bureaucratic Pilate, his precise enunciation plowing over the sound issues that plague some of the other cast members.
Ragland also designed the haunting set, which serves as a perfect backdrop for director Tamislea’s vision. George Martinat’s costumes work well, emphasizing roles while still feeling like “found” items. Choreographer Erin Roper contributes a lot of bounce and energy to the dance numbers, well executed by featured dancers Ashley King, Sydney Childs, Josh Broome, Cesar Lozada and Kristofer Parker.
Sadly, the show lost some of its power to sound problems. From intermittent silences to poor mixing to muffled diction, the first act especially suffered from a mix that allowed the tight, rocking live band (conducted by Christian Elser) to overwhelm the vocals. Whole sections of songs vanished too often, and in a staging this bare, each one of lyricist Tim Rice's words really matters, both to carry the story and the emotion. By act two, the problem mostly improved, leaving me hopeful that this was merely a hiccup from the night I viewed it.
Next year, GLOW Lyric Theatre moves to the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre. Based on the promise of this production and their stellar staging of Pirates of Penzance last week, they’ve got a bright future ahead. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
The show plays tonight and tomorrow at Centre Stage in downtown Greenville. For tickets, call 233-6733 or visit GLOWLyric.com.