Review of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN

Quote of the Day: If His story doesn’t do it, the brilliant vocals in the Ordway’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar will bring you to your knees. My own words after experiencing this stunning theatrical production. James Rocco has outdone himself with his cast, crew, and staging of this iconic rock opera. 

Randy Schmeling (front, as Judas) and Jesse Nager (Jesus) in Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo by Rich Ryan)

The two most powerful voices embody the the two most powerful characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s terrific score, Jesus Christ Superstar. Randy Schmeling as Judas comes out strong, the rocker, questioning, rebelling, loving and despising, and finally betraying his friend. Jesse Nager is a beautiful Jesus, with a voice of operatic power and sweet, clear notes filled with passion. We see in him more of the challenges he faced. He’s worshiped and put on a pedestal by his followers. His gentle hand heals. His wrathful anger puts the greedy in their place. In the eyes of his followers, he can do no wrong. In the eyes of his enemies, everything he does is a threat. 

Jesse Nager (center) and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo by Rich Ryan)

The picture above looks like a painting, but it’s a photo from the current production at the Ordway. Many times, the actors, set, lighting, and staging looked like the illustrated Bible coming to life. Then, there were times when the styles of the 1970’s glinted off the stage in their psychedelic bling. King Herod is played a female, Erin Schwab, who rocks her solo in the second act. The dance moves are flashy and energetic. (My teenage boys thought this part was a little weird. I reminded them that the show was originally produced in the 1970’s, where sometimes things were a little far out.)

Erin Schwab (center as King Herod) and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo by Rich Ryan)

Webber was only 20, and Rice was 25 when they produced the rock opera album Jesus Christ Superstar. The stage production happened later. They received much criticism for their portrayal of Jesus as being like a rock star, his relationship with Mary Magdalene, and an ending that didn’t tell the complete story of His death and resurrection. A friend of mine was in a Broadway touring production of the show in the 1970’s and said that they had police escorts in some cities because of the protests about this show. In their production, the final scene is where Jesus is carried off from the cross by the disciples. This production has a wonderful final scene that combines the Crucifixion with the ascension. I sat in awe from the start to finish. When Jesse Nager sang Jesus’ song Gethsemane, the crowd went wild. I thought he might get a standing ovation right in the middle of the show. The vocals that leave you weak in the knees, then bring you to your feet for the ovation come from Nager, Schmeling, James Ramlet’s deep bass, Lauren Villegas as Mary Magdalene, in a beautiful, lyrical voice, singing I don’t know how to love Him, Dieter Bierbrauer as Pontius Pilate, the entire ensemble executing each note and dance move with energy and strength.

Dieter Bierbrauer and Jesse Nager Jesse Nager in Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo by Rich Ryan)

This entire production is stunning from the set, that fits together like puzzle pieces, to the costumes, lighting, and fantastic pit orchestra, conducted by Andrew Bourgoin. The entire audience sat spellbound, and I think I held my breath through most of it, and I’m still thinking about some of the most powerful scenes. 

Jesus Christ Superstar, produced by the Ordway Performing Arts Center, directed by James Rocco, will be playing through July 30, 2017. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: When have you sat spellbound during a performance?

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  1. How interesting that the ancient story is told using the more modern historical conventions of the 70s, and kids pick out the latter as seeming strange. 🙂

  2. It was incredible. The actors, staging and music were amazing! The timing flowed perfectly so you sat upright in your seat for the entire production. Best production in the Twin Cities for 2017!!

  3. Saw the show and though musically done quite well, thought the passion and emotion that captivated me in the 70s was sorely lacking in this production.

    The stage was done well and I think with some work could have been something special.

    My criticism does not target the actors as their voices were magnificent and if given some artistic freedom may have soared.

    I think the director’s interpretation missed the strength of the story and the actors appeared to be staged to the point that they were ineffective.

    Go to see the music, but don’t expect the story to move you.

  4. Absolutely amazing. I Couldn’t set still.
    Vocals wereso powerful.
    My second time i ihve seen this.
    Never disappointed

  5. It has been decades since seeing this on stage. This production was awesome. Moving. Inspiring. The singing was absolutely amazing. The lighting and staging superb was with theatre folk who were very very impressed. The dancers. Musicians. Well have run out of adjectives. Just a complete beautiful inspiring powerful production.
    And yes there were times I was breathless. Then had tears.
    Thank you all who were involved. That was truly ‘church’ for me last Sunday!!