This story was corrected on 11/16/18 to better describe Jesus’ depiction. 

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” a 1970 rock opera with music by the dream team, Andrew Llyod Webber and Tim Rice, follows the story of the Gospels, up until Jesus’s crucifixion. Director Randy Reyes and the cast and crew of the St. Olaf Theater Departement put on a great show last  Friday night. 

One of their biggest challenges was “singing rock music in a safe and convincing way,” Reyes said in the director’s note. 

The show had some real strengths, the music was one of them. In a show with so much music, that is no small feat. The ensemble was in tune (snaps to the Sopranos in “Hosanna”) and the leads were all talented musicians able to sell their performances and characters. Austin Krentz ’19 on the electric guitar and Lukas Jaeger’s ’21 on the electric violin in “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” were both technically skilled and impassioned. 

The high point of the first act was meeting Josh Horst’s ’19 compelling and angsty portrayal of Jesus, and hearing Katie Howery ’19 (Mary), singing the emotional ballad, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” 

The second half of the show was even better. Leah Madsen ’19 had the whole theater laughing with her portrayal of Herod, and the audience was shocked into silence when Pilate (played by Ben Habel ’19) whipped Jesus, who slowly bent-double to reveal red lines crisscrossing his back. The moment was effectively staged. 

My favorite part of the show was when the entire cast and band left through the opening in the back wall, leaving just Garret Bond ’19 playing the piano. As he played the final notes, he lifted his hand as if to cut off an orchestra, and the lights faded out. Magical. 

Maggie Meyer’s ’20 light design also stood out. Scenes, like in “Hosanna” and a few of Judas’s songs (played by Hawken Paul ’20) featured lights that cast huge shadows of palm ferns and characters across the wall, making the whole audience feel caught up in the moment. Yellow lights pulsed across the stage as Pilate begged Jesus to save himself, adding to the sense of urgency. The lights also fit with the rock and roll vibe of the show.

The entire stage was set up like a rock concert, and part of me wishes the show were in the Pause, like last year’s musical, “Bat Boy.” Of course, scheduling is complicated, and the Kelsey seats are really more comfortable. “Jesus Christ Superstar” would attract a bigger and maybe an older audience as well so maybe Kelsey was the more logical choice. 

The acoustics in Kelsey, and balance of the microphones, really detracted from the music. A few lines couldn’t be heard, a few microphones weren’t in the right spots and there were some moments when the band was louder than the singers on stage. That being said, it was only opening night, and I expect a lot of those technical difficulties will work themselves out. The actors, however,  appeared to have strong enough diction to overcome the acoustical challenges. 

Overall, the show was entertaining, engaging and powerful. It was an ambitious musical that I think the cast and crew really pulled off. A big congratulations to all involved!