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THEATER REVIEWS : Power and Glory of 'Superstar' : Divine Cast and Crew Shine in Rousing Buena Park Production

August 18, 1993|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BUENA PARK — Andrew Lloyd Webber was very young when he and then-partner Tim Rice wrote "Jesus Christ Superstar," to be performed at a boys' school. Their simplistic retelling of the last seven days in the life of Jesus had the brashness of youth, the fire of originality and a solid rock-opera core.

In an outdoor production by Buena Park Civic Theatre, directed by Kevin Calvin, it is still a brash, fiery and solid entertainment.

Sometimes it's even more.

Calvin has wrought a fast-paced, visually exciting and sonically rewarding staging of this early Webber effort, before he started listening with such frequency to other composers for ideas and before his shows became bloated with self-importance.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is a dense, difficult piece handled here with style and craftsmanship.

In addition to Calvin's knowledgeable and very theatrical guidance, there is the pulsating musical direction of Jo Monteleone, who knows the power that must be pumped into the score to make it work. Conductor Dave Pier also knows that pulse and drives the score forward with energy and compassion, sometimes making his five-piece orchestra sound like a Broadway pit band.

None of this would work without performers in the leads capable of carrying the immense vocal load Webber places on them. Without exception, the 50-plus company is up to the job, and then some, down to the choral work of the singers and dancers.

John Charron, who provided the inventive pop choreography, has given his dancers combinations that are visually interesting, filling the stage beautifully and with effective precision.

Ken Roht is a powerful and sensitive Jesus, particularly in his aria, "Gethsemane," just before Jesus' arrest.

His strength is more than matched by the smoky, rich performance of Kevin Cade as Judas, who gives the traitor an emotional patina that belies the crumbling faith beneath.

Brooke Wilkes is an ingratiating Mary Magdalene who knows her way around Webber's writing, as does Keith Wolfe as a stoic Caiaphas and Dion Michael Ramos as a bureaucratic Pontius Pilate.

But their thunder is stolen by the gutsy, desperately earnest Abdullah Rasheen Hall as Simon and the very funny Marc Cherry as Herod, who plays the king's camp with style but subtly enough to get more laughs than Herod usually gets.

Ken Probe's simple platform setting works well, and the eclectic costumes by Carol Young and Ruth Walp couldn't be better, except for the dancers' outfits in the finale, which look K mart-inspired and are decidedly unbecoming on both males and females.

* "Jesus Christ Superstar," Buena Park Civic Theatre, Buena Park Community Recreation Center, 8150 Knott Ave., Buena Park. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 4. $5-$8. (714) 562-3844. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. Ken Roht: Jesus

Kevin Cade: Judas

Brooke Wilkes: Mary Magdalene

Robert J. Townsend: Peter

Keith Wolfe: Caiaphas

Abdullah Rasheen Hall: Simon the Zealot

Dion Michael Ramos: Pontius Pilate

Marc Cherry: King Herod

A Buena Park Civic Theatre production. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Direction and staging: Kevin Calvin. Choreography: John Charron. Musical direction: Jo Monteleone. Conductor: Dave Pier. Lighting: Jim Book. Setting: Ken Probe. Costumes: Carol Young, Ruth Walp.

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