JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Theatre Under the Stars kicked off its 62nd season this week under clear, chilly skies with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and Irving Berlin’s retrofitted 1946 Broadway classic Annie Get Your Gun. If TUTS doesn’t quickly do something about its dreadful sound system, it may not be around to see season 63.
Problems with microphones, speakers cutting in and out, and generally muddy sound don’t help Gillian Barber’s flat production of a once-fresh version of the gospels that’s starting to feel badly dated.
Jesus Christ Superstar depends not only on the dynamism of its key players but on the theatrical energy of JC’s followers and disciples. The ensemble here only sporadically rises to the occasion with little help from Troy McLaughlin’s choreography, although the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus are pretty powerful.
Despite his curly mop of hair, sweet voice, and beatific smile, Mat Baker succeeds best as Jesus when he’s angry. Singing “Gethsemane,” he challenges God’s plan for him in a dramatic falsetto. But he ends the song sobbing—an all-too-human hero who can’t compete with the theatrically more interesting villains.
Judas often steals this show and Adam Charles has his moments but his screechy high-end vocals lack knockout power. Some of the strongest work comes from Doug Thoms’ Pilate and especially Andrew Byerlay’s Herod, played as an overfed rapper with harem and posse. “Prove to me that you’re divine,/Change my water into wine,” he mocks.
Director Shel Piercy has managed to get fine Equity actors Stephen Aberle and Warren Kimmel to play Buffalo Bill and sharpshooter Frank Butler—the leading man in Buffalo Bill’s 1880s Wild West Show—for Annie Get Your Gun. But the undisputed star of this show is Meghan Anderssen as Annie Oakley, the crude, illiterate backwoods girl who becomes Buffalo Bill’s star attraction, outshoots Frank, and ultimately wins his love.
Anderssen is in good voice for Berlin’s best songs “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” (“A man may be hot but he’s not when he’s shot”), and Annie’s highlight duet with Frank, “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).” Too bad it’s almost 11 pm when that last song comes around. Although she could tone down the overacting, Anderssen shines as a comedienne, It’s impossible not to love her great energy and physicality.
In 1999 the show was rewritten to eliminate racist elements involving Native characters but the blatant sexism of the period remains uncomfortably evident. Still, a colorful ensemble of circus acts (unicycling, barrel rolling, knife-throwing), sweet dancing from Darren Burkett and Nicol Spinola, plus Anderrsen’s dynamic Annie and Berlin’s wonderful songs make this a midsummer night’s treat.