There was truly something to behold at the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar on Tuesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. A whole new generation of fans flocked to theatre to see not only one of the greatest stories ever told, but also one of the most amazing performances ever by and actor, Ted Neeley. Neeley who gained international fame and two Golden Globe nominations playing the Messiah in Norman Jewison's hit 1973 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock-opera masterpiece, has defied time and age sounding better in this latest tour then he did in the mega hit A.D. tour from 1992-1997.
The opera follows the last seven days of the life of Christ told by Judas' perspective. Superstar has gone from one of the most controversial pieces of theatre ever written to one of the most beloved. With a score that boasts some of the most recognizable songs ever written (Everything's Alright, I Don't Know How to Love Him, King Herod's Song, Gethsemane and Superstar) this current tour keeps the story as the centerpiece, and that above all it what propels Jesus Christ Superstar to the emotional stratosphere. Those of have seen the ridiculous updated 'Rent-esque' London and Broadway revival and tour during the first half of this decade can now revel in the glory and majesty of the story.
This is not to say that the staging is simple. Director Dallett Norris has very creatively combined elements of the both movie and the nineties tour (including the cross coming out of a steel mesh stage), but also makes his vision stand on its own with fabric flys and ingenious movement particularly in the leper number.
There is not a weak link in this cast either. From Corey Glover's (Living Colour fame) conflicted portrayal of Judas to Tiffini Dodson's magnificent and understated performance as Mary Magdalene, the cast and chorus rock the theatre in pitch perfect clarity. Special mention also has to be given to Aaron Fuksa, who is hands down one of the best King Herod's to play the role. Especially fun is the new calypso arrangement of King Herod's Song.
As stellar as the supporting cast was, the evening belongs to Ted Neeley who stopped the show twice in both the 'Temple Scene' and of course 'Gethsemane'. It was hard at first to see Neeley without his longtime friend Carl Anderson, who played Judas in the original L.A. production, film and subsequent tours with Neeley. Anderson unexpectedly passed away several years ago. Neeley's performance is different this time around, in part because of the loss of Anderson. Neeley's portrayal of Christ seems must more matter of fact then in prior tours and really foreshadows his death during the 'Everything's Alright' number rather than later in the show.
The admiration the cast has for Neeley is felt throughout the show and when the crucifixion occurs, not only is the audience in convulsive tears, but so are numerous member of the cast. Neeley has a following unlike I have never scene, crossing fans in both the rock and roll arena to theatre fans who come back to see him time and time again. That kind of connection with an audience is truly spiritual.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs through February 24, 2008 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois. For showtimes and tickets please visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Pictured: The National Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Ted Neely at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.