Jesus Christ Superstar - The Josh Young Show

I am still trying to get my Tony awards ballot in order as we are less then 10 HOURS AWAY FROM THE TONY'S!!!

But I feel compelled to talk about this currently running revival of The Josh Young Show Jesus Christ Superstar, largely because I went on Twitter record with one of my favorite social media pals (Hey Jess!). Currently playing at the Neil Simon theater, I have a rocky relationship going back to the first time I saw this show on Broadway - over twelve years ago.

I'll save my distaste for Andrew Lloyd Webber's general insufferability for a different time (say, when I talk about Love Never Dies and its utter irrelevance). Because I really don't worship the ground he walks on. I have disliked many Webber shows; Jesus Christ Superstar is no exception.

I just never really...'understood' it. Granted, the first time I saw JCS, I initially chalked it up to my youthful ignorance not being able to comprehend the score. Because, as it is a rock opera, the story is in the music and not exactly a transparent one at that. Looking at the Wikipedia page, I would have NEVER been able to derive any of the runthrough from the music. It sounds just like a lot a medley of beltish rock songs. Even if I did, it is not exactly a story I like.

Having seen it older and wiser (and more theater-adept)...I'm sorry; I am no more in-tune with this story then I was back then. I am convinced it is not me - this show is just horribly pretentious. It's strongest aspect is the score, but not because it has a storytelling depth; I can't recall a single semblence of plot (well other then the obvious Judas Iscariot trying to rein in the insanity that is Jesus).

So, why have I been talking about this show, going as far as marginally recommending it? Well, as I mentioned in my Newsies post, musicals have been struggling to fill a ballot, let alone have any sort of ample quality. The show's well-sung, belting cast bringing the roof down time and time again is worth the price of admission...and that's just barely enough in a year of unremarkable or average at best revivals and new musicals. I may not understand completely what they are singing about (if at all)...but MAN, do they sound UH-MAZING.

Emerging from the pact and giving one of the best, if not the best, performances in a musical this year, is Josh Young, playing Judas Iscariot. For a Broadway debut, he is SHUTTING. IT. DOWN and leveling that theater every show, so much so, they probably keep sending him the construction bills. It is not just his wide vocal range and powerful belt voice that is so alluring, he NAILS the facial and physical performing aspects as well. When most actors can barely get one part of a musical performance right, Young is over-delivering on both. When he comes out at the end in a blue suit and sequined blue top or belting his face off to "Superstar" as Jesus is hanging on a lit up cross, it is utter camptastic joy and one of the only parts of the show that I can sit through without cringing. Hey, that's something after all...

No really...he somehow commands the stage, without moving much or breaking a sweat, on his voice alone. No amount of crazy, back-up interpretive dancing can pull focus away as Young is enjoying the buffet of scenery.

No one may have excited me in this production as much as Young, but you can go through the lineup and declare each performer a good, great or amazing singer. Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy, playing Jesus and Mary, are also on-point. The three of them all together make the score gasp with intensity, like chills down your arms and spine and facial reactions in shock at the notes they are hitting. In a production that I largely don't care for, it is to the credit of these three, and the wonderful ensemble, that I can work up any sort of positive take-away.

Judas has swagger, y'all!
In case you are wondering, I saw the show comfortably after its opening, when Young's illness had worn off. Believe me; I was concerned for the poor guy as opening night came around and all was looking grim. Nothing would make me happier then seeing him win the Tony award as a fitting conclusion to everything he endured, but that is asking a lot. Mainly because the question of "will he or won't he recover" created a whirlwind of publicity that when combined with his high-caliber performance, is an unprecedented level of attention and conversation about any one actor in a season. It is that exact craziness that garnered Young a Tony nomination (even though I think his performance stood on its own), but probably will disqualify him simultaneously. It doesn't help that Young's main competition is the tour-de-force of Michael Cerveris, who owns everything and everybody.

But at the end of the day, Young remains my favorite part of this show, so good that I will actually remember him for many years to come. In a production that, story-wise, falls apart around him, I was intrigued enough to (1) pay attention and (2) start thinking of other shows he can amass during his Broadway career. Producers and casting directors? You have your next Jean Valjean or Javert in the next Les Miserables revival and if you cast him as Billy Bigelow in Carousel, he'll probably earn a Tony nomination for his rendition of "Soliloquy" alone. Get on that!

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Boneau Bryan-Brown

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