June 1, 2020
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SRJC’s “Superstar,” one fun rock concert

  • Jesus (Phillip Percy Williams) arrested after Judas has betrayed him. "Jesus Christ Superstar," Santa Rosa Junior College's electric musical/rock-opera is a production presented by a large, lively ensemble. Photo by Jeff Thomas

By: Janet and Lanny Lowery
April 26, 2019

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department’s rock concert musical, made Good Friday a great Friday.  Dancing, singing, acting all were superbly choreographed.  The music, beginning with Guitarist Ian Scherer’s kick off piece, electrified Maria Carrillo’s school theater.  Lights and spotlights brilliantly colored the action.

Street scene, contemporary culture and protest movements all combine to inform perspectives of how Jesus and his disciples may have been received two thousand years ago.  Scaffolds and stairs and some basic movable set pieces accommodate dancers and singers and nonstop action.  The production rocks from beginning to end with twenty-five musical numbers, action which resembles protestors and riot police from Berkeley in the late 1960s.

Guest artist Phillip Percy Williams played an animated, soulful Jesus who reached out not just to the other players but everyone in the audience as he touched hands with spectators or patted their shoulders.  He played, it seems, to thousands sitting on the shore of Galilee as he danced across the stage or stood on the side engaging with the ensemble visibly as they moved.  Williams’ singing matched his superb acting and dancing.  

Ariana LaMark’s Mary Magdalene matched the historic follower, a well off woman, a significant disciple, as LaMark played Mary with dignity and quiet loyalty.  (Mary Magdalene, often confused with a reformed prostitute Mary, represented many female followers of Jesus.)  Best of all, LaMark’s voice, fresh and unique, put her own stamp on her Mary Magdalene.  “Everything’s Alright” reverberates long after the performance.  “Could We Start Again, Please?” offers hope even in the face of the inevitable crucifixion.   LaMark skillfully overcomes her largest challenge, presenting “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” without sounding like recycled Helen Reddy or Yvonne Elliman.  LaMark’s version fit into the drama of the story through her pauses and pacing.

Judas in black leather, restrained and conflicted, soft-spoken, a sympathetic character presented smoothly by Noah Sternhill.  Never a demon from hell, this Judas struggled with his choices.  Sternhill, and perhaps Director Leslie McCauley, made the biblical choice, not the Middle Ages Passion play Judas, to show Judas as a man caught up with fate, not allowed self-determination.  Sternhill’s Judas does not want to be the pawn of the stars.

Fun to watch, supporting character Anthony Martin as Pontius Pilate who offers a little comic relief with his presentation, his purple suit, and his Great Clips hairdo gone bad.  Riley Craig as King Herod has his moment to create a good deal of comic relief not only with his entrance and exit but also his exaggerated portrayal of Herod.  (Remember Hamlet’s “Out Heroding Herod.”)  Prepare to offer a 19th century melodramatic “hiss” as Michael Arbitter’s Caiaphas enters as some futuristic bureaucrat.

Notable performances by Emma LeFever as Simon and David Klaut as Peter complete the familiar characters known from the Four Gospels.  Most remarkable, the twenty some odd performers who make up the ensemble appear throughout the show “in very many ways.”  Timing and presence, each has his or her moments just as musicians have solo pieces in the middle of some larger instrumental number. This works so smoothly because of the choreography styled and led by Alyce Finwall as well as the directing of Leslie McCauley.

Movement throughout the show by the ensemble and the members of the orchestra gave another dimension of entertainment to the show.  Always something going on everywhere and in every part of the theater kept the audience engaged every minute.

Such a large show depends on so many members of the artistic team.  Credit Music Director Janis Dunson Wilson and Vocal Director Joshua Bailey for the wonderful sounds as well as some necessary assistance by Sound Engineer Ken Braziel.  Peter Crompton designed the set that supported the story.  Costume/Makeup & Hair Designer Maryanne Scozzari’s creations added more than nuance to the production.

The show moves quickly, one hour forty-five minutes, including one fifteen-minute intermission.  As Director McCauley says, the show is “more like a rock-concert than a play.”  One song leads directly into another.  With eleven shows left, one wants to see a least one more performance; that’s how good this “Jesus Christ Superstar” is.

Future shows:  at 7:30 p.m., Apr. 25, 26, 27, May 2, 3, and 4; at 1:30 p.m., Apr. 27, 28, May 4 and 5.   Purchase tickets by calling 707-527-4307 or going online: theatrearts.santarosa.edu.