When “Jesus Christ Superstar” debuted in the ‘70s, it shocked audiences with its loud rock music, modern themes and non-traditional biblical interpretations.
While rock is no longer the radical genre it once was, the latest U.S. tour has updated the revolutionary musical with aspects such as hip-hop choreography to help keep the show relatable for new generations.
The iconic rock opera opened at Shea’s Buffalo on Tuesday as part of the musical’s 50th anniversary tour. “Jesus Christ Superstar” focuses on Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, and the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Loosely based on Bible stories, the musical delves deeper into the relationships of the biblical characters and adds details that made the original production controversial. This musical was originally released as an album with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “The Phantom of the Opera”) and lyrics by Tim Rice (“Aladdin,” “The Lion King”) in 1970 before debuting on Broadway in 1971.
The traveling show runs from Tuesday through Sunday at Shea’s. Since the musical is mostly non-stop singing with only a few spoken lines, the actors showcased incredible singing skills and stamina. For its approximately 95-minute run-time, the actors belted out loud rock vocals while performing rigorous hip-hop choreography. Some of the actors like Aaron LaVigne (Jesus Christ) also played guitar while performing.
But the guitars were not the only instruments on stage. Instead of utilizing the orchestra pit, the entire orchestra was situated within the set and performed on stage.
With the audio being both significant and complicated for this production, Anthony Cuozzo, head sound engineer for this tour, has a challenging job. At each venue the tour visits, Cuozzo has to make sure the sound remains mostly the same. While Shea’s Buffalo is a much wider space than most places the tour has visited, Cuozzo enjoys working in the space.
“The room is brilliant” Cuozzo said. “Once you get it right, you get it right. It’s not a house I have to fight, I’m pretty sure I’ve put on one of my best shows [here].”
Although the biblical stories seem ancient, different costume design choices bring the old tales to the present day. All the performers wear modern-styled costumes with accessories like leather jackets and body glitter. For example, Paul Louis Lessard (Herod) entered the stage in vibrant yellow drag.
During an early musical number, ensemble dancers brought bright glowing crosses onto the stage and danced with them. At one point, Tommy Sherlock (Pilate) had ensemble members throw objects that exploded into glitter to symbolize Jesus being whipped.
The overall set itself had a modern style and special effects such as fog and even actual fire.
Riley Dungan, a sophomore theatre design and technology major at UB, attended opening night.
“Everything from that iconic overture to [those] very fast super jazzy or electric guitar-heavy songs I was very excited about,” Dungan said. “Even though I’m not usually a fan of [modernized styles], I really liked that for this because it is such an old story. I also liked how much movement was going on. The only other show I’d seen that had that much movement was ‘Hamilton.’”
Isiah Saxon, a sophomore music performance major, went with Dungan to see the show and said he had no idea what to expect.
“I really enjoyed it. This is my first time seeing a rock musical so that was different,” Saxon said. “I [prefer] a nice balance between musical numbers and dialogues, but I thought [the show] was really interesting.”
With the iconic backlit crucifixion scene at the end, this production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ gave the old story new life for Buffalonians.
Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @AnastasiaWilds
Anastasia Wilds is the senior arts editor. She has been writing for newspapers since her junior year of high school, and she has appreciated all forms of art for even longer. When she’s not writing, she is either reading, listening to music, hanging out with her friends on discord or streaming on Twitch.