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Jesus Christ Superstar

The bombastic biblical rock opera succeeds in spite of its flaws

Jesus and his apostles (AKA groupies) assemble for a hippie confab. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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Jesus Christ Superstar, in many ways, is more of an institution than a musical, at this point. Beginning its life as a concept album, before debuting on Broadway in 1971, it was almost immediately a smashing success, leading quite quickly to a 1973 film adaptation. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the show's conceit of anachronistically depicting the final days of Jesus Christ -- with a metric ton of over-the-top rock numbers -- proved to be a potent package for audiences, then and now. For theatergoers who are new to the show, like myself, its charms may lean closer to the hokey side of things, but those charms do remain.

Tacoma Little Theatre's production of Jesus Christ Superstar is a bombastic spectacle, featuring an enormous cast, and first-rate lighting design, choreography and performances from the dedicated performers. Jesus is our lead, naturally, played wonderfully by Bruce Haasl, who sort of resembles Peter Gabriel. Introduced as a rock star, flanked by his apostles (who function more like groupies), Jesus begins the show believing a little too much in his own hype. Confident and suave, Jesus comes off as an emotionally cool character, before grappling with the weight of his impending martyrdom in Act II. He's comforted by Mary Magdalene (Allie Milburn), and resented by a conflicted Judas (Loucas T. Curry), who seeks to narc on Jesus to the Romans, portrayed as a quartet of callous bureaucrats.

Because this is a sung-through musical, with no spoken dialogue, a couple of issues arise. Judas is the heart of the play, with his internal conflict driving the action, but through what may have been a technical problem, very few of his lines were audible at the show I attended. Thankfully, this is a story that many people are intimately familiar with, so the narrative didn't suffer, but these difficulties made for a sometimes frustrating experience. Similarly, the apostles were largely inaudible during their song about the money-changers. It's unclear to me whether these problems stemmed from a malfunction with the headset mics, or if the sound levels were oddly mixed.

Still, there are far more strengths than weaknesses in TLT's Jesus Christ Superstar. Haasl, as Jesus, possesses the right amount of magnetism necessary for the role, and his voice is pristine. Also impressive is the very funny Herod (Andrew Fry), the conflicted Pilate (DuWayne Andrews, Jr.), and the wonderfully expressive Peter (Christopher Sweet). Best of all, though, is Milburn's turn as Mary; Milburn nails what could be a thankless role as the lovestruck Mary, doting on Jesus and comforting him in his time of need. In a show filled with tongue-twister lyrics and ‘70s rock outrageousness, Milburn gets the opportunity to underplay and simply emote. She sells what could otherwise be a silly rock opera.

Jesus Christ Superstar is not perfect, but it makes up for its flaws with pure verve and energy. Lexi Barnett both directed and choreographed this production, and she deserves credit for staging a show that would collapse under the weight of its ambitions without a steady hand at the helm.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through April 1, $22-$26, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

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