Friday, March 27, 2009

Playhouse offers stellar ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Published in The News Tribune, March 27, 2009

The “Superstar” cast includes, clockwise from left, Zach Busto, Bruce Haasi, Clair Fleckenstein, Jaime Cooper and Sara Flotree. Photo by Glenn Raiha

The day after “Jesus Christ Superstar” opened at Capital Playhouse the theater announced that it was adding four performances, “with the potential for three more,” including two on Easter Sunday.

In fact, they’ve added seven more shows. The additions were due to a packed house opening night and a preview performance with “a line out the door and down the block,” according to marketing director Stephanie Nace.

It’s an immensely popular show, and even with the added performances I highly recommend getting tickets as early as possible before they’re sold out.

From sets, lighting and costumes to choreography, directing, acting, music, dancing and many intangibles, there are so many things that go into making a show successful, and seldom if ever have I seen so many of these things mesh so perfectly. Capital Playhouse’s performance of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera is simply stupendous.

For starters, there’s Jamie Cooper as Jesus. An Olympia native, Cooper is a professional actor living and working in New York. He has a plaintive voice that can go from a mellow whisper to spine-tingling high notes, and his body language, most dramatically in the interrogation and crucifixion scenes, says more than his words (there are no spoken words, just singing).

As marvelous as Cooper is, however, the true standout performances in this show belong to Bruce Haasl as Judas Iscariot and Adam Randolph as Pontius Pilate – as is so often true, the bad guys are the juiciest roles.

The show opens with a brilliant overture by the 16-person orchestra and a dramatically lighted dance number that is burst wide open when Judas appears against a stark, industrial background to scream the opening song, “Heaven on Their Minds.” Dressed in contemporary layered rags, with long braided hair and leaping about the gritty set (which he designed), Haasl epitomizes the strength, anger and devotion of the conflicted apostle who both loves and hates his Jesus. Near the end of the show when guilt and self-loathing are added to his psychological makeup, an even more conflicted Judas reprises lyrics from the soulful “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” sung earlier by Mary Magdalene (Sara Flotree), and Haasl’s voice breaks while he sings off-key to express his otherwise inexpressible agony. This song alone is worth the price of admission.

So is Pontius Pilate’s solo on “Pilate’s Dream” and his duet with Jesus, “Pilate and Christ.”

Another remarkable performance is turned in by Paul Wright, a senior at Olympia High School, as Caiaphas. Such a deep and authoritative voice from such a young man is amazing. Also, his wisecracks provide what is just about the only comic relief in a play that presses the edge of being overly melodramatic.

There is one other bit of comic relief – an entire scene to be precise. But I will not spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that it stars the incomparable Josh Anderson as King Herod.

In addition to Wright as Caiaphas, the ensemble is filled with young actors, mostly from Capital Playhouse’s Kids at Play program. Outstanding youth in the cast include Bailey Boyd, Zach Busto, Eddie Carroll, Alayna Deatherage, Claire Fleckenstein, Gabriella Guilfoil, Peter Lindgren, Emily Milburn, Kali Ponzo, Gordon Shaughnessy and Ryan Tunheim. Also in the great ensemble are Anand Maliakal and Christopher F. Schiel.

Deserving of particular notice are: Jeff Kingsbury, director; Bruce Haasl, set designer; Matt Lawrence, lighting (with the help of some awesome new lighting equipment); Troy Arnold Fisher, musical director; Stephen Nachamie, choreography; and Tom C. Hudson, costume design.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 12, with added Saturday matinees April 4 and 11 and added Sunday performance at 7 p.m. April 12

WHERE: Capital Playhouse, 612 East Fourth Ave., Olympia

TICKETS: $29-$35 for adults, $23-$29 for seniors and youth 16 and younger

INFORMATION: 360-943-2744,

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