Theater Review: Jesus Christ Superstar
Oh how we love our brooding bad-boys, full of emotional conflicts and divided loyalties. From James Dean to Marlon Brando, we just adore our theatrical time-bombs ticking down to an eventual emotional explosion. Black outfits only accentuate their outlaw charms. Biblical bad-boy Judas Iscariot â€” beautifully and brilliantly portrayed by John Pointer in Zachary Scott Theatre Centerâ€™s new bilingual production of Jesus Christ Superstar / Jesucristo Superestrella â€” is a delicious double dip of bad-boy in black.
Joseph Melendez certainly did a fine job as the lankily fetching, tousle-headed, eye-candy, hottie Jesus of Nazareth. Yet we found it nearly impossible to tear our eyes away from the distinctive dark-haired glower of Pointerâ€™s Judas. Bad-boy Judas was onstage much of the show, hovering over the production like a bad angel on the shoulder of the action. Heâ€™s ready to turn up anytime the plot needs moving along. Especially when Jesus needs betraying with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver.
Directed by Zachâ€™s artistic director Dave Steakley, this re-envisioned production of the durable Tim Rice/ Andrew Lloyd Webber vehicle has been reset among the disenfranchised present-day Latino community. The production integrates Riceâ€™s book with the Spanish-language translation by Ãlvaro CerviÃ±o. So while you might know the melody, the words arenâ€™t exactly the same. This JCS even infuses Webberâ€™s music with a Mexican flair, leaving only hints of the familiar 70â€™s disco-y version. Alas, switching much of JCS to Spanish means that if, like us, you are unfortunately monolingual, even a familiarity with the story â€” like that possessed by our nun-educated Boston-Irish-Catholic date â€” you might end up constantly referring to the helpful libretto.
But never mind the plot. Thanks to arresting staging and costuming â€” and the high-dollar production values Zach Scott is known for â€” the show works as a experience for the senses. From King Herod (Butch Anderson) appearing as a Mexican Luchador to the Day of the Deadâ€™s dancing skeletons, this refreshed JCS is vibrantly Mexican-infused.
Michael Raifordâ€™s set was structurally minimal, prominently featuring banks of lights, situated behind ladders to the ceiling. The set design reflects the productionâ€™s inspiration â€” a photography book of Mexican home alters. Local artists submitted works of faith, filled with Mexican iconography, now lining the theaterâ€™s walls. Potential audience members should remember that even if this show is set in a disenfranchised community, theyâ€™ll still be seeing an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at Austinâ€™s most professional theater. Watching this bi-lingual, visually-Hispanic JCS is a little like seeing a show put on someplace marketing the colorful folkloric aspects of Mexican culture to the gringo community. Someplace like the Tesoros Trading Company on Congress.
That makes this bilingual JCS as authentically Mexican as, say, fajitas at Carlosâ€˜n Charlieâ€™s, Taco Cabana or Fonda San Miguel. Itâ€™s colorful Mexican-fusion theater. As long as you arenâ€™t expecting something from a Spanish-only roadside taco cart, youâ€™ll be pleased and sated by the zesty production.