One Night Stand
I had a one night stand last night. It was planned and paid for, but it was the best 2-hours I've had in a long, long time.
Jesus Christ Superstar was performed live at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood, California last night. This was a one night only engagement made extra special and unforgettable not only because a) it's JCS, yo. I'm nothing if not a JCS fanatic; b) the production was pulled together in 3-weeks, and c) The Cast was so .. very .. special. The universe aligned and brought us Ted Neeley, Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen reprising their roles as Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate respectively. Ben Vereen flew in from the East coast to revive his original Broadway interpretation of Judas for this production, and Clint Holmes came in from Vegas to perform as Simon Zealotes. The extra special guest of the night had to be Jack Black as King Herod. A small role which always manages to steal the show in every version I've seen - even more so with Jack Black who was apparently born to play this role.
The familiar strains of the Overture began and two screens at the sides of the stage switched from the JCS logo to the opening sequence from the film with the bus driving through the desert. As Heaven On Their Minds began and Ben Vereen stepped out on stage .. I got chills. I love Ben Vereen, I truly do, and the fact that he originated the role of Judas in JCS on Broadway is significant. But as far as Judas goes .. no one does Judas like Carl Anderson did for me. I remember seeing the JCS production in 1995 which toured with Neeley and Anderson as well as Dennis DeYoung as Pilate. Anderson was ... perfect. (But, Ben rocked! I swear.) As we moved into What's The Buzz? and Strange Thing Mystifying, Neeley's voice got steadier, Vereen got looser and everything started clicking.
Then came Everything's Alright. Seriously? I got chills typing that. Yvonne Elliman was amazing. There are no words. Her voice was so rich and full .. so much better than on the soundtrack recording that lives in my CD player. She finished the song to a standing ovation. (I should mention that both Neeley and Vereen had received standing o's by this point as well.)
This Jesus Must Die brought out Caiaphas (played by Chris Carey) and Annas (Larry Friedman). Again. WOW. Vocally, Carey was CRAZY good. The deep bass of his voice BOOMED in the theatre and people around us literally gasped at his flawless delivery. Friedman could have been Kurt Yaghjian, he sounded that similar. Again, my mind was buzzing with the awe that this could have been pulled off in 3-weeks.
Hosanna gives us the cheery Company giving it their all and leading us into Simon Zealotes (Clint Holmes). Now, I've never seen Holmes in Vegas, but crikey! That man can sing. Holmes gave an all out performance and rocked the house. By this time we're at Poor Jerusalem, and Neeley is firing on all cylinders. Things get toned down for Pilate's Dream and .. once again .. the JCS veterans show their stuff with Barry Dennen bringing down the house with his vocals.
The Temple brings back the video screens with clips from the film as the Company tells us what they wanna sell us and how we won't be sorry .. until Jesus comes in and gives them all the boot. Neeley's trademark wail brought hoops and hollers from the crowd. Yvonne comes back out and sings I Don't Know How To Love Him and I turned to PB who attended the show with me, and said "she made me cry". She made PB cry, too. Seriously, there are so many ways to fuck that song up, but she sings it with so much heart, soul and compassion .. it's indescribable.
Vereen tells us he's Damned For All Time before heading off to the garden for a classic moment where Jesus and all the Apostles settle down on the stage to give us the classic pose from The Last Supper (if I hadn't been so lost in this show, I would have snapped a picture since there didn't seem to be any rules against photography at the show). Gethsemane was probably Neeley's best song of the night. He owned that moment. He owned the crowd. Fucking brilliant.
The timing of The Arrest seemed a little off, but not so much that I cared because .. first of all it gives me my 'jaded faded faded jaded jaded mandarin' moment, and then it leads right into Peter's Denial when I finally got to hear Doug Crawford solo as Peter. To see Doug up there with people I've woken up with almost every morning (The JCS soundtrack is my weekday alarm) warmed my heart and I was so happy for him.
Pilate and Christ played out perfectly. And I found myself, once again, marveling at Dennen's voice. I also was thankful that Neeley has reasonably good hair, since the "soldiers" hanging on to him kept grabbing him by the hair and roughing him up. Part of me wanted to say "Hey! Do you KNOW who you are manhandling there?" Heh.
You know what comes next, right? Yeah. Herod.
King Herod emerges from a trap door in the center of the stage. Jack Black with his Burger King looking crown on knocked this performance out of the damn park. Hell. He knocked it out of the State. Everything was perfect. His entrance .. his voice .. his campiness factor .. his interaction with the Company members who carried him around on his bench .. his interaction with Jesus (which, again made me think "stop throwing bread at Ted Neeley!") Really. I have a whole new respect for Jack Black. Maybe the part and he were perfect for each other and something like this will never happen again? I dunno. But I, once again, found myself sorry I didn't snap a picture or two instead of being so absorbed by the performances.
Could We Start Again Please? gave me the chance to lose myself in Doug singing a duet with Yvonne Elliman. Seriously, folks. That is such a gift. Doug sounded great and I found myself being envious of the fact that Yvonne was cuddling up to him. Not that I was jealous of HER, I was jealous of DOUG! Lucky bastard. Yvonne was so obviously having a good time at this show (how could she not - she did get to snuggle hunk-a-licious Dougie), but seriously, she was just .. perfect. Amazing.
Judas' Death brought us a little too much smoke effect (haha), then to the Trial Before Pilate (Dennen stayed consistent with outstanding vocals) and .. hell yeah ..
Vereen? Kicked .. ASS. I think this particular piece was the one he was most comfortable with. He sang, he danced, he moved, he grooved, he blew me away. It was too much fun.
One thing I wish they would have used the screens for was the clips used in the film of Christ being crucified. Visually, it's stunning, and would have played well instead of just darkness during that segment. The theatre was very small, so there was one set and a lot of different uses for different sections of the set. They obviously weren't going to bring a cross in like they've done for some of the bigger productions, so the screen shots would have worked perfectly.
The crowd, while not very animated was definitely appreciative. There were a lot of friends and industry types there (I saw Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Mark Harmon, Wayne Brady and a few familiar faces that I couldn't put names to. I know! ME!) The guy seated next to me (Eli) was fantastic fun to be next to because he was equally as blown away at the opportunity to see this production with so many of the original film cast. The three of us (me, PB and Eli) were singing (quietly) through the whole show - giddy with the absolute JOY of seeing this show with this cast. I would have loved to have seen Anderson in the role of Judas one more time, but he passed away in 2004. The performance last night was dedicated to his honor. And honor him they did.
I know a lot of people don't "get" Jesus Christ Superstar. Where one person sees blasphemy, another sees an amazing work of art. Where one person sees a lighthearted hippy romp, another sees an important social commentary.
In the end ....
Tickets to JCS:
Commemorative Program: $20.00
Commemorative T-Shirt: $20.00
Experiencing JCS with
this cast? Priceless
By the way. Neeley is doing what will apparently be his last foray on the road as Jesus in JCS starting September, 2006. Judas will be played by Corey Glover of Living Colour.