Sioux Empire’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Explodes with Awesomeness

His best friend betrayed him.  His followers can’t understand his message.  His Father needs him to die to fulfill his mission.  This is Jesus and this is the story of his last week of life in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, currently playing at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

There are certain shows that I hold to higher standards due to my affinity for them.  Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows and after the first act, the Sioux Empire Community Theatre’s production had eclipsed nearly all of my standards.  This show is incredible!!  It’s got tip top acting, stellar singing, inventive choreography, outstanding technical elements, and spot on direction.  This particular production has entered my top 10 of the best shows I’ve seen and my top 3 of the best out of state shows I have reviewed.

Eric Parrish takes on the demanding task of serving as both director and musical director of this show and is superb in both roles.  Parrish’s band (Garret Hansen, Tyson Conn, Trace Mahoney, Royce Kuenzli, and Rod Jerke) starts off red hot and just gets hotter as the night goes on as they never miss a trick or note of this legendary score.  Parrish’s direction is simply a thing of beauty.  He has set the show in a post-apocalyptic society where Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees, and the Romans are depicted as rival gangs which I found positively inspired.  His staging is phenomenal and exhausting.  Static this show is not as his actors hurtle about the stage non-stop.  He also knows how to pull the very best out of his actors as I couldn’t find a weak link in the lot.

The supporting cast does excellent work as they enhance the show with their reactions, but they also acted through the scene changes which was crucial to keeping the show’s energy up.  Standout performances include Dennis Berger as Peter and Devin Basart as Annas.  Berger has a bright, light tenor that I could listen to all day and really shone in “Could We Start Again, Please?”.  Basart is a wonderful bootlicking lackey to the high priest whose operatic tenor soared in “This Jesus Must Die” and “Blood Money”.

Darren Lee’s take on Judas Iscariot has to be seen to be believed.  He presents Judas as a man whose relationship with Jesus has been frayed to the final thread.  He still respects Jesus, but he thinks Jesus is leading them all to their deaths due to his delusions of grandeur of being God’s son.  I loved how he skulked about in the darkness, glaring at Jesus whenever he did something with which Judas disagreed.  So realistic was the tension that I almost thought that Judas was going to slug Jesus at a couple of points.  Lee also ably portrays the regret and guilt of Judas after he betrays Jesus.

Lee also has a monstrously powerful tenor.  His voice is reminiscent of a young Meat Loaf as he belts out power numbers with “Heaven On Their Minds”, “Damned for All Time”, and “Superstar”.

What words could I use to describe Raine Jerke’s rendition of Jesus?  Mind blowing.  Staggering.  Powerful.  Haunting.  Good words to be certain, but they seem to fall short of the true awesomeness of his work.  I was gobsmacked to find out that Jerke has very little acting experience as he has an ease and naturalness equivalent to an actor with years of experience.  His expressions are pitch perfect.  His reactions deadly accurate.  His acting so nuanced as he swings between love for his followers in “Poor Jerusalem” to boiling frustration with them in “The Last Supper” and the extreme agony and fear of his death in “Gethsemane”.  So moving was that last number, that tears welled up in my eyes.

Jerke’s singing voice is astonishing.  His soaring tenor captured every tiny emotional beat of every number and managed to hit the nearly inhuman falsettos required of the role without popping a sweat.

Jenn Evanson Lee is wonderfully sweet as Mary Magdalene.  Her work is admirable as she portrays Mary as Jesus’ most loyal disciple.  Indeed she is the only one who actually tries to give Jesus the comfort and support he needs instead of just taking from him.  She also has a fabulous soprano which ranged from soothingly calm in “Everything’s Alright” to emotionally puzzled as she wrestles with her own feelings for Jesus in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”.

James Van Oort radiates menace and authority as the high priest, Caiaphas.  This is truly a dangerous man and not someone you want as an enemy.  His deep and mighty bass driving home those points in “This Jesus Must Die”, “Hosanna”, and “Trial Before Pilate”.

I rather liked Rick Weiland’s original take on Pontius Pilate.  His first appearance is the only time we see him without his mask and he is a decent and just man puzzling over his dream about the Nazorean (“Pilate’s Dream).  In all of his other appearances, it’s clear that his authority is in his position as he lacks the confidence to withstand the extreme pressure the Pharisees are putting on him to crucify Jesus.

Neil Simons’ lights were the best I have ever seen in a show.  His lights were almost separate characters enhancing every moment of the show.  I was especially impressed with how they would go red or dark whenever evil seemed to be getting the best of Jesus.  Kathryn Pope’s costumes were amazing.  Keeping with the gang mentality, you had the leather jackets of Jesus’s crew and the suits and sunglasses of the Pharisees.  What I found most intriguing was that every character wore black to symbolize the darkness they were in while Jesus wore an off white shirt showing him as the light of the world.  Tiffany Koppes’ choreography was highly entertaining and inventive, especially her hilarious routine for “King Herod’s Song”.  I also adored Brad Waltman’s crumbling Colosseum set.

There were a few minor glitches in the show.  Some microphone issues cropped up in Act II and a little of the dancing could have been smoother, but these tiny things pale in comparison to the sheer magnificence of the show.  As the house was nearly full, I suspect a monster hit is on the hands of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.  I heartily recommend getting a ticket before it’s too late.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre through May 21.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 605-360-4800 or visit www.siouxfallstheatre.com.  The Sioux Empire Community Theatre is located at 315 N Phillips Ave in Sioux Falls, SD.

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Sioux Empire Community Theatre Presents ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Jesus Christ Superstar

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Location:  Sioux Empire Community Theatre (315 N Phillips Ave, Sioux Falls, SD)

Performance Dates:  May 5-21 (Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat, 2pm on Sun)

Ticket Prices:  $30

Box Office:  605-360-4800 or visit www.siouxfallstheatre.com

Description

It seems especially fitting that the first rock opera, created as a concept album at the end of the turbulent ’60s, should have at its center a social and political rebel. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality. Propelled by a stirring score, by turns driving and majestic, satirical and tender, Jesus Christ Superstar illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart.

Cast

Raine Jerke as Jesus

Ryan Harr as Judas

Jenn Lee as Mary Magdalene

Rick Weiland as Pilate

James C. Van Oort as Caiaphas

Devin Basart as Annas

Darren Lee as Peter

Paul Ridgway as Simon

Robin Byrne as Herod

Abigail Chapdelaine and Lenora Hintze as the Soul Girls

Ensemble features Tyler Johnson, Dennis H. Berger, Landon Javers, Brandon Tople, Megan Davis, and Cecily Fogarty

Auditions Galore at Sioux Empire Community Theatre

Sioux Empire Community Theatre is proud to hold auditions for the following productions:

 

The Fantastic Mr. Fox Auditions

Audition Dates: February  21 and 23 at 7:00 pm

Performance Dates: March 23 – April 2 Thursdays – Saturdays at 7 pm and Saturdays at 2 pm. One school Matinée Tuesday, March 28.

SOME GENERAL GUIDELINES:

PLEASE COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. WE WILL BE SEEING MANY ACTORS SO IN THE EFFORT OF TIME, WE ASK THAT YOU COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. THERE IS NO ADVANTAGE TO COMING BOTH NIGHTS
We are auditioning young actors 5th grade – 12th grade) and Adult Actors (12th Grade +)

AUDITIONS WILL CONSIST OF:
– Reading from the script
– Director led improv exercises
– A small movement audition. We will put you through you a small section of a exercises in small groups. You will then be asked to perform it in front of the production team as a group. Please remember to wear clothing that you can move in and appropriate shoes (i.e NO sandals, flip-flops, etc..)

Synopsis:

Roald Dahl’s much-loved story follows the vain attempts of three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean, to get rid of the fox who regularly steals food from their farms.

They try to kill him by any means possible. Outwitted at every turn, the farmer’s ploys backfire. Fantastic Mr. Fox devises a plan which will ensure full stomachs for not only his family, but all his friends, who celebrate with a sumptuous feast.
Cast:

BADGER/NARRATOR – Avuncularly friendly
MR. FOX – Confidently courageous
MRS. FOX – Bravely protective
BOGGIS – A fat farmer
BUNCE – A “pot-belied dwarf” farmer
BEAN – A lean, tall farmer
RAT – Whining parasite
MABEL – Gossipy housekeeper
MRS. BADGER
YOUNG FARMER/MR. MOLE
YOUNG FARMER/MR. WEASEL
YOUNG FARMER/MR. RABBIT
YOUNG FARMER/RAT
YOUNG FARMER
MRS. MOLE
SMALL MOLES
MRS. WEASEL
SMALL WEASELS
MRS. RABBIT
SMALL RABBITS
SMALL BADGERS
SMALL FOXES
LANDGIRLS
LANDGIRL/RAT
CHAPERONES
VILLAGERS

The Amish Project Auditions

February  27  and March 1 at 7:00 pm

Performance Dates: April 6 – April 9 Thursday – Saturday at 7 pm.  This is our AACTfest entry so there is a chance that we could advance on to regional, national and internal tournament.

SOME GENERAL GUIDELINES:

PLEASE COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. WE WILL BE SEEING MANY ACTORS SO IN THE EFFORT OF TIME, WE ASK THAT YOU COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. THERE IS NO ADVANTAGE TO COMING BOTH NIGHTS

We are auditioning young females 6-8, Young females 16, Women 25  – 60.  Men 30 – 60.

AUDITIONS WILL CONSIST OF:
– Reading from the script
– Director led improv exercises
– A small movement audition. We will put you through you a small section of a exercises in small groups. You will then be asked to perform it in front of the production team as a group. Please remember to wear clothing that you can move in and appropriate shoes (i.e NO sandals, flip-flops, etc..)

Synopsis:

The Amish Project is a fictional exploration of the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting in an Amish community, and the path of forgiveness and compassion forged in its wake

Cast:

ANNA – Amish girl, age 14. Victim of the shooting.
CAROL STUCKEY – Widow of the gunman, age 31. English/non-Amish.
VELDA – Amish girl, age 6. Sister of Anna. Victim of the shooting.
BILL NORTH – English/non-Amish man, 50s. Scholar and professor on Amish culture, as well as friend and spokesman to several Amish families affected by the shooting.
AMERICA – Hispanic girl, age 16. Pregnant. Works in the local grocery store.
EDDIE STUCKEY – The gunman of schoolhouse shooting, age 33. English/non-Amish. Killed himself at the end of the schoolhouse attack.
SHERRY LOCAL – English, age 53. Resident of Nickel Mines, PA.

Jesus Christ Superstar Auditions

February 28 and March 2 at 7:00 pm.

Performance Dates: May 5 – May 21 Thursdays – Saturdays at 7 pm and Saturdays at 2 pm. One school Matinée Tuesday, May 9.

PLEASE COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. WE WILL BE SEEING MANY ACTORS SO IN THE EFFORT OF TIME, WE ASK THAT YOU COME ONLY ONE NIGHT. THERE IS NO ADVANTAGE TO COMING BOTH NIGHTS

We are auditionimg actors: 16+

AUDITIONS WILL CONSIST OF:
– singing 32 bars of contrasting piece one upbeat contemporary and one more classical broadway ballad.  An accompanist will be provided for you.  Please do not accompany yourself.
– Reading from the script
– Director led improv exercises
– A movement audition. We will put you through you a small section of a exercises in small groups. You will then be asked to perform it in front of the production team as a group. Please remember to wear clothing that you can move in and appropriate shoes (i.e NO sandals, flip-flops, etc..)

Synopsis:

It seems especially fitting that the first rock opera, created as a concept album at the end of the turbulent ’60s, should have at its center a social and political rebel. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality. Propelled by a stirring score, by turns driving and majestic, satirical and tender, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart.

Cast:

PRINCIPALS
1 Woman
2 Men FEATURED
6 Men ENSEMBLE
Large singing ensemble consisting of Lepers, Cured Lepers, Merchants, Apostles, Soldiers, Judas’s Tormentors, Reporters, Temple Ladies, and Soul Girls.

CHARACTERS
Mary Magdalene
Jesus of Nazareth
Judas Iscariot
King Herod
Caiaphas
Peter
Pontius Pilate
Simon Zealotes
Annas
3 Priests
Lepers
Cured Lepers
Merchants
Apostles
Soldiers
Judas’s Tormentors
Reporters
Temple Ladies
Soul Girls

If you have any questions please send them to patrick@siouxfallstheatre.com

Hope to see many of you there!

Sioux Empire Community Theatre is located at 315 N Phillips Ave in Sioux Falls, SD.

A Season of Heroes

A SEASON OF HEROES AT THE MAPLES REP

Heroes come in many forms. 

            Some are musicians who tell stories with their songs that save people going through hard times.  Some are little old ladies working in the church basement, providing delicious food and uplifting the spirits of their community.  Some criminals can even be heroes when given the right circumstances.  These are just a few examples of the heroes you’ll see during the Maples Rep 2016 season.

 

            Of Mice and Men is a serious play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.  Audiences certainly enjoyed Love Story, The Way We Were, Ordinary People, Million Dollar Baby and The Revenant?  So, if you like –admittedly non-traditional– love stories with heroes and villains, you need to see the Maples Rep production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.”  Todd Davison-Artistic Director, Maples Rep.

 

Of Mice and Men opens Friday, June 24th on the main stage at Maples Rep in Macon, MO.  This American classic is a snapshot of Depression-era migrant workers and a tale about a tragic friendship. Two drifters, the opportunistic George and his friend Lenny, the gentle giant, travel the roads of northern California with delusions of living off the “fat of the land.” John Steinbeck wrote the novel and adapted it for the stage in 1937. It was a slice-of-life drama in its time and continues to resonate with students, readers and playgoers as a universal meditation on power, hope and consequences.

 The play shows us real people, good and bad, and this mixture lets the audience know that the world portrayed in Of Mice and Men is real. Steinbeck does not fall into the trap of describing all those with power as evil. He has created characters with serious weaknesses and with great strengths but his real interest is in people who are oppressed and weak, yearning and failing to take control of their lives.

 “The Royal Theatre is a great, intimate space to see such a moving story” says Maples Rep Artistic Director Todd Davison, “even if people are very familiar with this story, they will experience it in a new way.  With actors from New York, Chicago, Orlando, Missouri and Alberta the cast of this production, under the direction of Maples Rep veteran, Brandon McShaffrey, has wide experience to bring to their portrayals.”

 Of Mice and Men runs through July 17 in rotating repertory with Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash, a musical about love and faith; struggle and success; rowdiness and redemption; and home and family. On July 15th one of heroes of the Bible–Joseph–takes the stage in the hit show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in a delightful musical parable for the whole family.

In between and after the Maples Rep main stage productions are: Afterglows, Sunday Dinners, Cabarets, Kid’s Shows and Kid’s Theatre Camps.  For more information and to order tickets call the Maples Rep Box Office at 660-385-2924, order online at http://www.maplesrep.com/, or go by the theatre located on the corner of Rubey and Vine in Macon, Missouri.

This ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Needs More Spirit

A disfigured genius falls in love with a chorus girl.  Taking her under his wing, he trains her voice so she can become the leading lady of the Opera Populaire.  When she falls in love with a childhood friend, the genius plots to keep her for himself at any cost.  This is the plot of The Phantom of the Opera, currently playing at the Orpheum Theatre.  It is written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart, and based off of a novel by Gaston LeRoux.

Phantom has long been my favorite musical.  Its moving story and haunting music never fail to sweep me into another world.  Even after 8 viewings of this show, it has not lost a bit of its magic.  Cameron Mackintosh’s reimagined production helps breathe a bit of new wonder into the 30 year old show with new sets and a few surprises.

With that being said, it also breaks my heart to admit that this was also the weakest rendition of the show I have seen to date.

Not that the show is bad.  The music, singing, and choreography were as strong as ever.  But there was a lack of connection between many of the primary performers and their words making it feel like they were simply going through the motions.  The end result being that a show where every prior production ranked a superior from me gets a mere OK on this go-around.

Part of this problem is not the fault of the actors.  While the Orpheum is a beautiful, archaic theatre well suited to a play like Phantom, its acoustics are a black hole for sound.  Many of the performers did what they could to overcome this problem, but their efforts could only go so far.  Others needed to do a better job of projecting.

Laurence Connor’s direction is passable.  The scene changes are excellently executed and some of the staging is truly magical.  However, he failed to get the best performances out of his cast and his staging of the play’s climactic final scene utterly robbed it of its tragic beauty.

The Really Useful Theatre Group took a big risk in casting Chris Mann in the title role.  Best known for being a finalist on The Voice, Mann, if the program is correct, has no prior acting credits.  Mann truly makes an effort and, for an inexperienced actor, has a truly potent sense of body language.  But his inexperience shows in his inability to capture many of the subtle nuances of the character, though he does show a brilliant flash or two throughout the night.

His singing is absolutely fantastic and he clearly knows how to interpret a song.  His beautiful tenor nailed the emotional beats of The Music of the Night and he was utterly mesmerizing as he entranced Christine during his solo in Wandering Child.

Katie Travis was one of the few performers equally as strong on the acting side as on the singing side.  She understood that a musical is more than just the singing.  It’s about being able to act through the songs, as well.  Ms Travis has a very young look which lent itself well to the role of Christine Daae.  She is utterly believable as the young girl torn between her mysterious benefactor and her young lover.  Her simple hugging of the Phantom at the play’s climax nearly broke me in two.

Ms Travis also has a glorious soprano that is so pure and clean.  She nearly brought down the house in her first solo, Think of Me, and proceeded to do so in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.  Ms Travis’ singing and accurate acting choices made for a well rounded performance.

Jordan Craig played Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s love interest.  Craig is a very, very good singer.  His powerful, well measured baritone was a pleasure to listen to in his signature solo, All I Ask of You.  But his acting was almost non-existent.  I didn’t get the sense of any true emotional commitment to the role as Craig would appear on stage, sing, and then not have any sort of reactions to the events swirling around him, even in scenes where Raoul was in mortal peril.

David Foley and Edward Staudenmayer brought some welcome comedy relief in the roles of Firmin and Andre, the new owners of the Opera Populaire.  The roles are not huge, but each managed to create well developed characters with Foley’s business minded Firmin and Staudenmayer’s more artsy Andre.  These two men were arguably the strongest performers of the night with their deft comic timing and ability to overcome the difficulties of the Orpheum’s acoustics.  Staudenmayer does need to be careful with his humor as he went slightly over the top on a couple of occasions.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention several outstanding cameo performances in the evening’s production.  Victor Wallace stole his scenes as the uncouth Joseph Buquet who makes the fatal mistake of poking fun at the Phantom.  Morgan Cowling is a charmer as Christine’s loyal and gutsy friend, Meg Giry.  Michael Thomas Holmes was hysterical as the ill-tempered musical director, Monsieur Reyer.

Scott Ambler’s choreography was always a joy to watch especially in Masquerade.  Dale Rieling’s musical direction never failed to impress in a night of flawless instrumentation from his orchestra.  Paul Brown’s sets were pieces of artistic majesty from the stage of the Opera Populaire, to the graveyard where Christine’s father was buried, to the dank lair of the Phantom.  Maria Bjornsen’s costumes were extremely elegant with the flowing gowns for the ladies and the fine evening wear for the men.

There is a reason why The Phantom of the Opera still holds audiences in the palm of its hand even after 30 years.  The music and story are timeless with rich roles in which actors can sink their teeth.  While the night’s entertainment was pleasant enough, I have seen and will see better productions than this current run.  Ultimately, the failure to connect with their roles by many of the actors made this simply an average show.

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre through May 1.  Performances are Tues-Thurs at 7:30pm.  Fri-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm.  There are also matinees at 2pm on Sat and 1:30pm on Sunday.  Tickets range from $150 to $50 and can be obtained at TicketOmaha or by visiting the box office at 13th and Douglas Streets M-F from 10am-5pm and Sat from Noon-5pm.  The Orpheum Theatre is located at 409 S 16th St in Omaha, NE.

2015 Playhouse Awards Night

Last night the Omaha Playhouse held its annual Awards Night to honor the contributions of its numerous volunteers on all sides of the stage.

Volunteer Awards

PRESIDENT’S AWARD:  Trish Liakos and Steph Gould, Act II

EDWARD F. OWEN AWARD:  Carter and Vernie Jones

TRUSTEES’ AWARD:  Mary Dew and Bob Fischbach

Acting Awards

FONDA-MCGURE AWARD (Best Actor)

Brennan Thomas for his performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Melanie Walters for her performance as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot

MARY PECKHAM AWARD (Best Featured Actor)

Musical

Dave Wingert for his performance as Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone

(Tie)  Megan McGuire for her performance as the Drowsy Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone and Molly McGuire as Janet Van De Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone

Play

Matthew Pyle for his performance as Jeffrey Skilling in Enron

Charleen Willoughby for her performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?

BARBARA FORD AWARD (Best Supporting Actor)

Musical

Brian Priesman for his performance as Patsy in Spamalot

Rebecca Noble for her performance as Norma Valverde in Hands On a Hardbody

Play

Andrew Prescott for his performance as Caleb DeLeon in The Whipping Man

Megan Friend for her performance as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

ELAINE JABENIS CAMEO AWARD (Best Cameo Performance)

Musical

Matthias Jeske for multiple roles in Spamalot

Roni Shelley Perez for her performance as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar

Play

Paul Schnieder for his performance as Kenneth Lay in Enron

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan for her performance as Felicia Dantine in I Hate Hamlet

BILL BAILEY DEBUT AWARD (Best Debut Performance

Nick Albrecht for his performance as King Arthur in Spamalot

Sarah Query for her performance as Cindy Barnes in Hands On a Hardbody

Superstar Soars

From the first notes of Jim Boggess and his superlative orchestra, you will be catapulted on an amazing journey for the eyes, ears, and heart as you experience the last week of Jesus’ life told in the style of a rock opera.  This is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is, by far, the best musical ever mounted on an Omaha stage and Kimberly Faith Hickman deserves a standing ovation of her own for an extraordinary display of direction and choreography.  Never is there a wasted beat, nuance, or moment and you will be riveted to this incredibly powerful story from beginning to end.  It has been updated so that the tale now takes place in modern times which I believe strengthens its relevance.  Jesus and his followers are now street people living in a derelict shantytown while Pilate and the high priests are well dressed businessmen.  Lydia Dawson’s masterful costuming and Jim Othuse’s deceptively simple set perfectly catch the mood of this update.

This is one of those shows where I truly wish I’d be able to single out every performer individually in a review, but for the sake of brevity, let me say that this cast is phenomenal.  Each and every one is always in the moment and exudes an incredible amount of energy that helps propel the show to unimaginable heights.  Among the talented ensemble were a few standout performances that deserve special notice such as Zach Kloppenborg’s portrayal of the obsequious, irritating suck up Annas.   His whining tenor wonderfully grates on your nerves throughout the night.  Jimmy Nguyen’s Peter was a surprising delight as his strong, supple singing voice completely belies his slight frame.  Jerry Van Horn rules the stage as King Herod as he smarmily tries to get Jesus to prove his divinity in “Herod’s Song”.

Roderick Cotton is a marvel as Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot.  Oddly enough, he is actually the centerpiece of this story as it is told from his point of view.  Cotton makes for a surprisingly sympathetic Judas as he is Jesus’ right hand man, but fears things are getting out of control now that people believe that Jesus is the son of God (Heaven on Their Minds) while he is convinced Jesus is just a wise teacher.  Cotton’s powerful tenor is capable of capturing a wide range of emotion from sneering superiority as he blasts Mary Magdalene for anointing Jesus with expensive ointment in “Everything’s Alright” to desperation as he feels compelled to betray Jesus for his own good in “Damned for All Time/Blood Money” to anger as he confronts Jesus at “The Last Supper”.

Cotton is also a treat to watch in his silent moments as his expressions are crystal clear and tell a story all of their own.  Not only is it a striking performance, I believe it has the potential to be an award winning one at the end of the season.

John Gajewski handles the role of Jesus with grace and aplomb.  His dynamite tenor reaches searing and soaring falsettos that would make Ted Neeley proud.  Gajewski’s Jesus really emphasizes his human nature and reminds us that Jesus felt the same emotions as every other person.  Rarely have I heard such subtle, outstanding nuance in a voice as Gajewski glides from tender love and hope for his followers to understand the truth of his mission in “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem”, to supreme confidence in his message in “Hosanna”, to fury at the desecration of his Father’s house in “The Temple”, to frustration with his followers not getting it in “The Last Supper”, and caps it off with a haunting acceptance of his death in “Gethsemane”.

Gajewski’s expressions and body language are just as subtle.  Particularly telling were the weariness in his face when he accepts his destiny in “Gethsemane” and his pained suffering as he is scourged in “Trial by Pilate”.  Both moments had me searching for a tissue.

Many experienced performers would be envious of the stage presence and confidence possessed by young Roni Shelley Perez who plays Mary Magdalene.  Her sweet soprano captures utter devotion to Jesus as she comforts him in “Everything’s Alright”, a perplexed confusion in her dominating solo “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, and a slow understanding of the truth of Jesus in “Could We Start Again, Please?”  Her performance was one of the night’s many highlights.

Also spectacular were Cork Ramer as the high priest, Caiphas, and Michael Markey as Pontius Pilate.  Ramer’s flawless bass exudes a dark menace as he plots to eliminate Jesus in “Jesus Must Die” and a mocking congratulations and thank you to Judas in “Judas’ Death”.  Markey’s facile baritone paints a picture of a man reluctant to execute the innocent Jesus, but who finally buckles under the extreme pressure in “Trial by Pilate”.

A few minor missteps in diction, projection, and dancing did not distract from this entrancing, beautiful, and moving night of theatre.  As Saturday’s sellout crowd indicates, this show is already morphing into a massive success.  Get a ticket before it’s too late to see this epic hit and potential awards season darling.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs until April 4 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Wed-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $40 for adults and $25 for students.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.