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THEATER REVIEW

'Superstar' lead off by at least a hair

November 05, 2002|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

It's not the first time a rock 'n' roll singer has assumed the title role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." Deep Purple's Ian Gillan sang the role on the first "Superstar" album recording in 1970. Black Sabbath session-singer-turned-born-again-Christian Jeffrey Fenholt portrayed Jesus in the original Broadway production in 1971.

This trivia comes via a quick Internet search by this confessed rock illiterate to find out something about the latest rocker-turned-Savior: Sebastian Bach. Formerly with the heavy metal band Skid Row, Bach is currently starring in "Superstar" at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

The baddest boy of this New Jersey rock group was Bach, who never lived down a 1989 incident in which he hurled a bottle into a concert crowd and cracked a girl's skull. That same year, he was photographed wearing a T-shirt with a homophobic slogan. Skid Row members were noted for their hair -- long, flowing, Harlequin-romance locks that would send even Fabio running to a mirror to check for pattern baldness. The hair was so integral to their act that more than one rock writer described their style as "hair metal."

Bach's amiable but ultimately misguided stage interpretation of Jesus might best be described as "hair theater."

You've got to give Bach -- 6 feet 3 and possessed of a stunning blond mane -- credit for making a definitive choice: to play this role as Jesus Christ, Rock Star, using all the tricks in his heavy metal repertoire. Strutting his stuff, flipping his hair, turning all the high notes into a rocker's attention-hungry screeches and howls; all he's missing is an air guitar.

Bach has also spent four months in 2000 on Broadway in "Jekyll & Hyde" and appeared as Riff-Raff in "The Rocky Horror Show," so this is not his first theatrical outing. And, by the end of the second act of "Superstar," he seems to be struggling earnestly to get past the pop concert bravado and into something resembling a character. La Mirada is the first tour stop for this production from McCoy Rigby Entertainment; maybe he'll have it down by the time they hit Kalamazoo, Mich., in February.

Other performances -- more in the tradition of musical theater than Bach's hard rock schlock -- shore up the show. Natalie Toro's sweet voice and lusty personality combine for a winning Mary Magdalene. Though he started off a little hoarse, Carl Anderson, who has portrayed Judas on Broadway and on film, presents a riveting portrait in pain and confusion. Smaller characters, including Lawson Skala's deep-voiced Caiaphas, Stephen Breithaupt's Pilate and Peter Kevoian's wickedly fey King Herod come across in sharp focus.

This production, directed by Kevin Moriarty, is based on a recent New York revival of the show directed by Gale Edwards, in which the story is rocketed from the hippy-dippy early '70s to a contemporary urban landscape fraught with graffiti, riot police and stockbrokers dancing under glittering electronic signs reporting the upticks and downturns of the market, including the latest from Enron. One might argue that the update adds little to the story -- but the staging, costumes and lighting design that accomplish this time warp are triumphs of stage wizardry.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

`Jesus Christ Superstar'

Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

When: Tuesdays-Fridays 8 p.m., Saturdays 2:30 and 8 p.m., Sundays 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Ends: Nov. 17

Price: $28 to $30

Contact: (562) 944-9801

Running time: two hours

Sebastian Bach ... Jesus

Carl Anderson... Judas

Natalie Toro...Mary Magdalene

Stephen Breithaupt...Pontius Pilate

Lawson Skala... Caiaphas

"Jesus Christ Superstar," Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Directed by Kevin Moriarty. Scenic design by Peter J. Davison. Costume design by Roger Kirk. Lighting design by Mark McCullough. Sound design by Jon Gottlieb and Philip G. Allen. Stage manager Michael McEowen.

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