What would you say to the story of Jesus’ demise imparted as a present day version in the combined styles of The Matrix, A Clockwork Orange, Seattle Grunge scene, and Woodstock all recorded via TMZ? “Well, I never thought I’d see Jesus wearing skinny, skinny Jeans,” my viewing partner for the night will declare. Many in the near vicinity can only agree and you can bet you’ve just heard all that and many more commentaries to come right here folks!
It is a festive opening night at The MET theatre in the unassuming industrial/domestic neighborhood garnishing the nearby cross streets of Santa Monica and Western. A photo tarp with bright interrogation-style lights has been erected to the fore of the venue’s enterprising stairs and photographers await the throngs of crowds in idle anticipation. Random fact belying the photographers hitherto itchy fingers; tonight’s spectacle is sold out and theatergoers will not begin arriving more copiously until roughly twenty minus minutes prior to curtain, or less. Once inside the lobby, opening night gifts are bestowed in the form of free drink vouchers, gift bags including champagne, and chocolate chip cookies and a single Hershey kiss for the mere act of picking up our tickets!
Once inside the theatre, front row drink stands are festively festooned with all ambient audience members’ brimming champagne glasses and a wrapper or two of finished off snack food. A plume of mist might escape under the stage’s curtain via a dry ice maker so signature to DOMA’s productions. As the audience settles, prior to the admonishment to extinguish all cell phones, we are informed that this production of Jesus Christ Superstar sets out to examine Christ’s first coming (and for all we know, second coming) in an age of selfies, and near constant surveillance, and our night is set for the magic that is about to unfold—until the rather downerish flogging and crucifixion of course…
DOMA Theatre Company gives us a fresh look at this rock opera and does a bang up job to boot! From the earthy crunchy streets of Jerusalem wherein Jesus is flanked by bohemian throngs snapping social media inspired selfies with our lord and savior (he will sport what resembles a modern day Neru suit minus the high brimmed starched collar and the skinny, skinny jeans) to the cold and austere Matrixy/Men-in-Blackish lair of the priests and high priests–commanded by that of Annas and Caiaphus–the stage is set for the dichotomy of opposing forces that will lead to the renowned tale’s penultimate apex. Additionally from the money changing scene in what resembles an S & M bar labeled The Temple in a pyramid type Logo replete with spinning D.J. to Judas’ all too reminiscent Seattle grunge rocker style, there’s something here for everyone!
Though the music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber bolsters the Woodstockian aspect of the production, and keeps the audience bobbing in their seats throughout, it very poignantly and pointedly echoes the action within the tale’s unfolding in the most apt of mirrored fashions. Of note in particular is the middle of the second act as Judas fights with Christ and accuses him of letting the crowd’s dogma reach hysterical proportions. Their duet, followed by Judas’ solo waxes rhythmically frenetic tempered only by the sound and approving backing of his subsequent duet with the priests whose plodding and methodically paced portion of the song is the perfect counterpoint to our “Superstar’s” would-be adversary. Another such instance is the 39 lashes scene (i.e. the flogging prior to the crucifixion). As the music echoes the drama in process in slashing throbs, notes oscillate in almost sitarian and dramatic fashion such that one nearly sees the dust of the desert rising in freshets surrounding the torture!
Though first produced early seventies, reexamination of the legend in question provides one with a certain epiphany, set this far in the present. Concerning the most modern of caterings, at a certain point the chorus will do a group dance seemingly reminiscent of a waltz, all partners having been replaced with selfie sticks and camera phones adorning the ends, and I cannot help but think that Jesus’ imminent return this day in age would surely be a mass media debacle, not to mention disaster for the whole of humanity, which I guess is kind of the point. Yet it is indeterminate as to whether Christ’s second coming would signify an indication of worldly destruction or render itself the catalyst for said very thing, particularly concerning the riots the high priests believe it incites.
It additionally elucidates the abject unreality and dysfunctional ill-health of one person being all things to all people. This is particularly evident as Jesus exits The Temple only to be descended upon by the diseased and impoverished, as he intones, “There’s too many of you—don’t push me. There’s too little of me—don’t crowd me. Heal yourselves!”
While thought provoking, the production itself is visually stunning. The crucifixion scene in particular is all too wonderfully dark and haunting. Scenic design by John Iacovelli and lighting by Christina Schwinn; enlightenment is tempered with anguish and eeriness in all the right places. And naturally the perpetual fog and use of strobe lights only add an extra dimension to the entire spectacle. Costume Design by Lauren Oppelt sets the perfect tone for the light vs. dark in the form of Jesus vs. the high priests and personifies each character to the nth degree. The only critique I have is that the instrumentation sometimes drowned out the singers but other than that, all acting, singing and dancing is spot on! Most notable performances include: the dynamic-voiced Nate Parker as the earnest (and skinny, skinny Jeans-clad) Jesus Christ Superstar, the deliciously gravel-voiced Jeremy Saje as a decidedly intense Judas Iscarot, conversely silken-voiced Renee Cohen as the nurturing and concerned Mary Magdalene, a forceful Kelly Brighton as Pontius Pilate, the hilarious Venny Carranza as a sprightly Herod, the bewitching, bass-voiced, Andrew Diego as Caiaphas and the incomparable Michelle Holmes as the one female priest of the Matrix, Annas.
Doma’s Jesus Christ Superstar runs until March 22nd.
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