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Review: Civic’s ‘Superstar’ is the definition of a spectacular musical

March 26, 2019

If you like a little spectacle with your musicals, Rochester Civic Theatre delivers with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which opened last Friday.

The Civic’s presentation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice 1970s hit is a hang-on-to-your-seats, over-the-top, take-no-prisoners production. It is, in a nutshell, two hours of pure entertainment.

Director Lee Gundersheimer (who directed “Annie” last Christmas at the Civic) has another hit on his hands with this show. Seemingly all of Nazareth and Bethlehem are on stage, dancing, singing, playing music — and somehow Gundersheimer makes it all look organized.

For all of that, though, the most fascinating part of this production takes place on the backdrops of the stage, where Kevin Dobbe is working his magic once again with video projections. This time, not only are we transported to the Garden of Gethsemane or the narrow streets of a town, but the characters of the play themselves are projected on the screens. Sometimes, in fact, it’s hard not to watch the screens instead of center stage.

In any event, the heart of this musical is, well, the music. There will be arguments forever over which Webber musical is his best, but there’s little doubt “Jesus Christ Superstar” is his most varied from start to finish. With songs ranging from nearly atonal rock to gorgeous ballads, the music draws from several genres.

So, who’s in it? Chad Campbell is a lanky Jesus. Professional actor Tommy Hahn is Judas. Their dueling personalities are best illustrated by Campbell’s soul-searching “Gethsemane,” and Hahn’s rousing, Elvis-like finale.

Dianna Parks is Mary Magdalene, and her pure, pop-country voice is perfect or the heart-grabbing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright.”

Music director Dan Doering doubles in a hilarious routine as Herod. Jeromy Darling shines as Pilate, and Grant Bluavelt, as Peter, has a nice duet with Parks. There are others, too numerous to mention here, who step forward to shine in the spotlight.

The creativity of the dance ensemble, choreographed by Ellen Huston, is eye-catching. The costumes, by Marco Magno, run the gamut from Biblical times to today. All of it takes place on a multi-tiered set designed by Doug Sween and Janet Roeder.

The only question is whether all the eye- and ear-candy distracts from the story itself. The only answer: When it’s this entertaining, who cares?

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