A heavenly staging of classic Christian rock opera

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 11:45pm

Over the years, I have seen countless versions of  Jesus Christ Superstar, from student productions to community theater to the recent national tour that featured an amazingly vigorous Ted Neeley, reprising the role that made him famous more than 35 years ago.

But there is something quite special about Boiler Room Theatre’s current rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic rock opera. Perhaps it is the multi-talented cast’s youthful spirit or the seasoned production team’s strong vision. But as I recently took in the opening night performance, I was transported back to the 1970s when I first discovered the glorious music of  Jesus Christ Superstar
(on vinyl, of course).

With music by Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice,  Jesus Christ Superstar follows the final week of Jesus’ life, beginning with his arrival in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. Beyond the obvious biblical references, however, the play explores the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, touching on timely issues of celebrity, politics and the court of public opinion.

Co-directed by musical director Jamey Green and choreographer Billy Ditty, this  Jesus Christ Superstar
 proves to be as relevant as ever. It’s a remarkably fresh staging anchored by outstanding musicianship and vocals.

A trio of BRT newcomers lead the way,  with Ben Van Diepen as Jesus, Ciaran McCarthy as Judas and JoAnn Coleman as Mary Magdalene. Van Diepen shows off a tremendous vocal range as Jesus, complete with electrifying wails that rival the best heavy metal headliner. But it is his gentle vulnerability that makes the story all the more moving. Meanwhile McCarthy — fresh off the first national tour of  Jesus Christ Superstar — plays Judas with true rock star appeal. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

The lead players receive ample support from an ensemble of familiar faces. Standouts include W. Scott Stewart, who lends his considerable presence and rolling bass to the part of Caiaphas, and Alan Lee, who delivers a deliciously dark (and tattooed) take on Pontius Pilate. And in a role too often played strictly for comic relief, Scott Rice brings a believable balance of menace and madness to King Herod.

There are moments when the show’s incredible energy level threatens to overwhelm the audience, but it’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish. Nearly 40 years later, there’s still no denying the power of  Jesus Christ Superstar.


Jesus Christ Superstar

When: 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays (September 3 and 17), Fridays and Saturdays, with a discount Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. (Aug. 30 and Sept. 6. Through Sept. 19).

Where: Boiler Room Theatre at The Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Road

Cost: $25 for adults, $23 for seniors (age 60 and up) and students (age 13 through college with ID), $19 for children ages 3-12. Matinee prices are $2 less, respectively. All Tuesday shows are two-for-one, and “Thrifty Thursday” shows are $15. 

Info: 794-7744 or boilerroomtheatre.com