“Jesus Christ Superstar,” the iconic rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, has been delighting and surprising audiences for over 50 years. The musical was first released as a concept album which lead to its Broadway debut on October 12, 1971. The story focuses on the last seven days of Jesus’ life as seen through the eyes of one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. It is loosely based on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and a timely choice by Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church for the season.
The cast leads and ensemble possess a great mix of vocal talent and storytelling.
Judas (the dynamic Emily Sergo) opens the show, belting “Heaven On Their Minds.” Even though you know he will eventually betray Jesus, you can’t help but love Sergo’s interpretation of the character and have empathy for Judas. Donned in a leather jacket and with scorn on her face, Sergo steals the show with an outstanding performance of the title song, “Superstar.”
Mary Magdalene (played by Sarah Kent) comforts a down-to-earth Jesus (Jehan Silva) who is upset about everything that is going on around him. There is the suggestion of romantic feelings Mary Magdalene may have for Jesus, lovingly expressing the song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” with her bright, soprano vocals.
Just as things seem to be “alright,” in enters the impressive pair of high priests, Caiaphas (Shouvik Mondle) and Annas (Mars Duque), who seal the fate of Jesus as expressed in “This Jesus Must Die.” Mondle has a booming, deep, bass voice so it is no surprise to learn he is a graduate from San Francisco Conservatory and the Juilliard Opera Center. Duque completes and complements Mondle with their notable voice (they are also the understudy for the role of Judas.)
The cast leads and ensemble possess a great mix of vocal talent and storytelling. You could see that Simon (Matthew Walter) was the leader of the dance numbers. Herod (Jeff Sprague) brought energy and laughter during “Herod’s Song” which contains the lyrics “So if You are the Christ/You’re the great Jesus Christ/Prove to me that You’re no fool/Walk across my swimming pool.” But our emotions quickly changed when Pilate (Scott Benedict) sang, “Trial By Pilate/39 Lashes.” You could feel the pain of the lashes as ensemble members tore away strips of cloth to reveal a blood-stained body.
There is a marriage of 1970s and today’s sensibilities in the costumes by Susan Bohlman and the minimal set design by Elysia and David Merrill, who are also the co-directors of the show. Both Shenandoah Conservatory grads, it is clear this dynamic duo is here to reveal the story of Jesus’ last few days on earth. The band—which consisted of Doug Byerly and Chris Pinder on keyboards, Francis Becknell on drums, Alan Becknell on guitar, and Mike Dawson on bass—was outstanding, albeit overpowering the vocals a bit in essential moments.
The show’s ending leaves the audience with a desire for a sign of the resurrection, perhaps by changing out the black scarf for a white one, or shining a light on the cross as a hint of the empty tomb to come. Overall, the production brought excitement and—if you weren’t familiar already—a curiosity to know more about Jesus and his ministry. The pastor of Woods Memorial spoke at the beginning of the show about “finding out more about the ending/new beginning of this story” by attending a service at their church in the upcoming weeks.
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: This show contains flashing strobe lights, and some loud noises and may not be suitable for younger audience members.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs weekends through April 2, 2023 at 7:30 pm (doors open at 7 pm) at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, 611 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park, MD 21146. Tickets are $15 and may be ordered by visiting here.