Theater Review: 'Jesus Christ Superstar' -- 3.5 stars
Jesus Christ Superstar
Two musicals about Jesus are now playing on Broadway - and though both end with a crucifixion, they're very different in tone.
While "Godspell" features a bunch of cheery kids acting out parables, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a melodramatic but exhilarating examination of Jesus' last week according to the Gospels.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's popular rock opera has yet to achieve success on Broadway: The original 1971 production, which had a crazy scheme of insect symbolism, was puzzling, and a lackluster 2000 revival flopped.
Des McAnuff's exciting new production, which premiered last summer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, combines a rock-concert atmosphere with an elegant simplicity and runs exactly two hours in length.
The production details all work here: Scruffy-looking Apostles climb around an industrial set, the costumes mix traditional and modern garb, and Lisa Shriver's hip-hop choreography reflects the propulsive music. A rolling LED scroll - not unlike what you'd find outside the Fox News building - is used throughout the production to indicate time and place.
As Jesus, Paul Nolan emphasizes the character's inner strength, and Chilina Kennedy's Mary Magdalene keenly represents a scared woman trying to be strong.
Josh Young, who plays Judas, was out during most of the press previews and replaced by Jeremy Kushnier, who was impressively understated in a role that usually draws overblown performances. Nolan and Kushnier are both vocally extraordinary and handle the demanding score with ease.
Tom Hewitt is gripping as Pontius Pilate and Bruce Dow makes for an appropriately campy King Herod, providing a bit of comic relief.
If you go: "Jesus Christ Superstar" plays an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd St., 877-250-2929, superstar