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  • Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

At PPAC - Jesus Christ Superstar is still Super

Returning to the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) for its 50th anniversary North American tour, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar shows that the passage of time hasn’t taken away any of the show’s high voltage luster. The powerful musical depiction of Jesus Christ’s last week of earthly life is compelling and engulfs the viewer with emotion

The advance media hype for this latest interpretation makes a good deal of noise about what purists might label the secularization of Jesus’ life and fate. Presented as a rock star consumed by his own success, the emphasis is more on the love and adoration directed at him than at the traditional image of Jesus as the dispenser of all-encompassing love.

In the ultimate analysis, it doesn’t matter very much that the publicists shade the buzz toward the sensuality they see in the story’s re-framing. Despite their analysis, the impact of the production on the viewer is one of compelling spirituality just as it always has been.

The music speaks as powerfully to the cynics and the sinners in the seats as it does to the seekers and the saved. Directed by Timothy Sheader with amazing choreography by Drew MacOnie, this edition of the now classic telling of the passion of Jesus doesn’t merely recount the story; it makes you experience it.

The play has always been presented from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. His increasing alarm at Jesus’ messianic acceptance of his fate is at the core of the conflict and leads to his betrayal of Christ and his own self-destruction. Pepe Nufrio is riveting in the role. His voice is truly impressive.

The energy of the entire cast is signaled by their stampede-like entrance at the start, running pell-mell down the aisles. Once assembled on stage they seem to never stop moving for the entire 90 minutes of the show.

Aaron Lavigne makes a soulful, if tortured and introspective Jesus amid a frenetic, passion-fueled band of followers. His vocal range can’t match the inimitable stage and movie Superstar, Ted Neeley, but whose really could? He does well.

Jenna Rubaii, as Mary Magdalene, sings perfectly modulated arias of angst and devotion. This edition of Jesus Christ Superstar is a most suitable vehicle for the 50th anniversary tour.

The company that graced the stage at PPAC from January 25 was scheduled to conclude on the 30th, but the blizzard of 2022 might preclude the final performance. Check with the PPAC box office at 401-421-2787.

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