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THEATER REVIEW 'JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR' : Classic Illustrated : The show that introduced Andrew Lloyd Webber to the general public closes this weekend in Port Hueneme.

March 26, 1992|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Jesus Christ Superstar" was originally created as a 1970 phonograph record, but achieved great international success onstage as a musical based on the days leading up to Easter.

An enjoyable Cabrillo Music Theater production, directed by Sean Moran, closes this weekend at the Dorill Wright Cultural Center in Port Hueneme.

The show's major place in theater history may be as the work that introduced Andrew Lloyd Webber to the general public. Its ranking in the annals of pop music rests on the hit singles of "Superstar" and "Everything's Alright" by Murray Head and Yvonne Elliman, both from the original cast, and Helen Reddy's version of "I Don't Know How to Love Him."

Controversial at the time of its introduction, "Jesus Christ Superstar"--a "Classics Illustrated" rendition of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus with a backbeat--today seems merely quaint. Partly, it's because of the dated boogaloo beat.

It certainly trivializes the event, most of all when the Resurrection is relegated to a curtain call.

Moran, whose earlier Cabrillo productions include "Bye, Bye Birdie," "The Sound of Music," "West Side Story" and "Grease," is nothing if not flamboyant. "Superstar" includes such flourishes as Pontius Pilate in a double-breasted tuxedo, King Herod in drag, making his entrance on a motorcycle, and Judas at one point descending from the rafters hanging onto a rope.

Moran's found some excellent singers, including Gabriel Arciniega as Judas and Charlie Jourdan as the deep-voiced Caiaphas. Elizabeth Sandowski is an affecting Mary Magdalene, and David Reynoso virtually slinks off with the show during his shining moment as Herod.

Bret Rungren isn't as strong-voiced as some of the other players, but he looks the part of Jesus and holds the role admirably.

The cast--larger than usual--performs on a stark, modern set designed by Michael Roth in an amalgam of period and contemporary costumes designed by Florence Mathis. Maura Peterson's choreography is imaginative (especially in keeping so many bodies from crashing into one another), and Ilana Eden leads a capable 12-piece orchestra.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Jesus Christ Superstar" continues tonight through Thursday at 8 and Sunday at 2 at the Dorill Wright Cultural Center, 575 Surfside Drive in Port Hueneme. Reserved-seat tickets are $17; $15 for students, seniors and active military with I.D. Many shows are already sold out, so reservations are recommended. For reservations or further information, call 483-8859.

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