Jumping Jesus! Thanks to Theatre Live!, it's fair to say that Elle and I have walked all stations of the musical cross. Last year at this time, we went to see Fiddler on the Roof, which lead to our love-hate relationship with the mighty Orpheum and the childhood trauma evoked for me by its big production musicals. In order to recover, we hit mainly fringe productions for the summer. A year later and all the more enlightened, we were once again called to prayer by the Orpheum's "Broadway in Minneapolis" kick off series with my all-time favorite "Jesus Christ Superstar". It's good to be back on the red carpet.
In preparation for seeing Jesus (his fourth coming for me), I'd been listening to the soundtrack repeatedly. The musical montage does the same thing to me as a hit of Ecstasy does to twenty-something gay men at Mardi Gras. In fact, in the heat of a Weber-induced passion, I often wonder to myself if I am a gay man.
Elle: Stop it right now, Rox. As usual, it's you, you, you. What about the play?
Rox: I am talking about the play, because I'm talking about the music. Anyway, once you get used to the inlets and socio-politico-psycho catch phrases, the score becomes akin to air, in that the more you breathe, the more you need.
Elle: Not for me. I really enjoyed this play -- well, other than those frickin' strobe lights they kept shining into the audience during the first five minutes. Not good for the migraine-prone. Anyway, I was fairly impressed with the voices of the cast members until Jesus (Sebastian Bach) started singing. Now remember, since we got there just as the lights were going down (not my fault, by the way; Rox just had to have one more beer), I had no idea who played Jesus. When he opened his mouth, my first thought was Geez, what a whiney voice. And then, when he let loose with that...that... screech I thought, Oh, God help me. It's Heavy Metal Jesus. And the way the threw back his body into that pretzel pose when he started screaming? Well, that brought to mind Ted Nugent singing "Cat Scratch Fever" at Day on the Green at the Oakland Coliseum, lo those many years ago, when I was high on mescaline.
Rox: Whose rambling now? Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted. I was talking about how much I love the soundtrack. So much so, that for the past week I found it a struggle to turn off the CD and leave the house; I could barely stand it as I walked around campus or waited for the bus. I couldn't wait to go home and get another fix. In the meantime, I had to entertain myself.
"I beg your pardon?" acquaintances would inquire when I'd subconsciously drop, "Always hoped that I'd be an apostle" into a conversation lull. I'd then explain that I was going to see JC at the Orpheum, though that never seemed to clear my good name; However, just for the record, there is something to this music that attracts to my limbic connectors that works for me.
Elle: Nooooo! Not the limbic system again! And promise me in this review you will not use the words "du-jour."
Rox: Quit interrupting me. Admittedly, Andrew Lloyd Weber is among my favorites. I know this disclosure pretty much cancels out my chances of ever becoming somebody, but I just can't help myself.
Elle: So, Rox. You said you saw this play when you were a little kid and few times since then. Has it stood the test of time?
Rox: It scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.
Elle: But has it held up?
Rox: It has aged a bit and sure, the Broadway stake has it working a tad too hard to keep up with the times, but I really noticed it no more than I notice that people are wearing bell bottoms and those hideous tinted glasses again. What does faze me, however, are the things that remain unchanged. Like: the music. Well, the set of course, was pure eye candy, with all its solid shades of Rothco colors, not to mention the largeness of the Orpheum. What else can you pray for?
Elle: The definition of "Rothco?"
Rox: He's a painter who works in dreamy sunset colors. He's very popular.
Elle: Let's look him up online right now, Rox. I see "Rothco" with a "C" makes military gear and police issue cuffs out of heavy gauge nickel-platted steel. Let me try it with a "K." Ah, yes. Mark Rothko. He's popular? Then I'd say the American public has lowbrow taste. A ten-year old with a box of Crayola Crayons could churn out something better than that.
Rox: Geez, Elle. You're even grumpier than usual.
Elle: Let's get on with this. I had never seen JC-unlike you, he's never come for me, let alone four times, so I had nothing to compare it to. What struck me the most about the clothes and the set was, first, how the "Roman police officers" looked like a cross between Darth-Vader and Nazi Storm troopers. Those black boots, the long black coat, and then of course the Darth Vader head gear that completely covered their faces. And did you notice the back wall of the set? Those drawings of men in stripped concentration camp-like outfits with the storm trooper guys right behind them? And then the graffiti. The work "frei" was written over one of the stripped guy's body. When people arrived at Auschwitz there was this sign over the entrance that read "Arbeit Macht Frei." with translates: "Work Makes Free."
Rox: Didn't notice. I was too busy singing. You know, as we watched those people on stage get healed by Jesus, I got all teary eyed and wondered what I was missing out on, my being an atheist and all. Ever since I saw JC as a kid (and each time after), I found myself wanting to join a cult in order to be a part of something mysterious. At some point I start having flashbacks of various encounter groups I did in the late eighties and how Jesus figures can be found just about anywhere. Then it occurs to me why religion is so --
Elle: Where are you going with this? Is this leading to another self-disclosure about how you used to think Alf was real? And last I checked, you were a Jew.
Rox: Oh, yeah. Elle...listen! This is important. (She's just jealous because she's too skeptical to have a higher power except for her cat.)
Elle: How do you know? You've never even asked me if I believe in a higher power.
Rox: So, do you?
Elle: Finish your litany so I can get back to writing about pork.
Rox: What the hell are you talking about, Elle?
Elle: A writer's gotta make a living and right now what's payin' the bills is pork.
Rox: But you're a vegetarian-and a Jew!
Elle: I'm expanding my horizons. You were saying...?
Rox: So, as a kid I'd get all wrapped up in this idea of Hollywood, especially Andrew Lloyd Weber with all the shiny things and big fun drama on stage.
Elle: You've already had this epiphany. Wasn't it in the "Cats" review?
Rox: But it's clearer now. Anyway, instead of investing all that excitement into something practical, I'd get all into the subject matter. Like the same way I got all into boats when the Titanic came out instead of whatever else. What I' m saying is that when something comes together on stage with such power, timing, and integration of the senses, it is easy to see how one might flock to something false or mythical. Instead of projecting passion onto something practical like dancing or music lessons, I went straight to the higher power! It's object relations, pure and simple. Like when a child is learning to attach-
Elle: No attachment theories in this review.
Rox: And this, by the way, combined with after school specials about the holocaust, is what made me turn agnostic.
Elle: I thought you said atheist. So, What. Are we now the "One Jew and an Agnostic Review?" Anyway, I did enjoy this play more than most. In part because it was short so I didn't have some stranger's thigh pressed against mine for too long. Those seats are too damn small. I think it's the shortest thing we've ever seen at the Orpheum.
Rox: Yeah, about the length of the CD. You gotta get the CD, Elle. Did my singing bother you? You know the music, right?
Elle: I knew "Superstar" though as a kid I thought the words went: Jesus Christ Superstar / Who in the hell do you think you are? I also knew "I Don't Know How to Love Him". They played that on the radio when --
Rox: I dooooooon't know how to loooooooooo-ve him-
Elle: No singing, Rox. And it was interesting to hear "I Don't Know How to Love Him" as an adult. As a kid, I didn't have the context in which to put the song. Back then, I thought it was just about "earthly" love.
Rox: Was Judas gay, Elle?
Elle: Stop it right now, Rox.
Rox: And by the way, wasn't he a little dramatic? Kind of Judasing himself to death? Oh, and another thing, what's Hosanna?
Elle: You have no taste. Judas was fantastic. He was a pro. Especially next to Jesus. And why is Jesus always blond? Hello? Middle East? Dark hair? Dark skin. Hosanna: It's a shout of fervent praise that shows one's adoration of God. Quit with all the questions, Rox. You said you've seen this play a zillion times.
Rox: What's the rush? It's not like we have to summarize the plot. People go to church every week.
Elle: You're the one who was asking who Mary Magdalene (Natalie Toro) was! She did have a beautiful voice, by the way. And you're the one who wondered what Jesus actually died for and why Pontius Pilate (Stephen Breithaupt) was finally peer-pressured into it. Not only that, you wanted to know if Jesus' followers were Jews! Then you went on and on about being confused about Jesus. Asking whether Jesus was "just a man" or some kind of God.
Rox: No! What I wanted to know was if Jesus would have been crucified on say, an electric chair, if people would be wearing those on chains around their necks instead of crosses?
Elle: Oh, get over it, Rox. You wanted to bring in a guest Christian.
Rox: Yeah! Where's Matthew. Oh, and another thing, at least I finally get it about the "my son is a Jewish carpenter" thing-that's progress!
Elle: Okay, Rox, here's Matthew. So, Matt, you're the son of a Lutheran minister. Explain this Poncho, Pauchus, Pontius, whatever-the-hell-his-name-is, Pilot guy. He's the "law," right?
Elle: So what did he come up with as justification to kill Jesus? Pilate keeps saying-or rather, singing-"he's just a man."
Matt: Uhhhhh. I don't really remember. It's been a long time since I've read the bible.
Rox: Once again, we're over the word count --
Elle: Whose fault is that?
Rox: -- wasting time on plot, when the heart of the review is about what the play gets us thinking, discussing, feeling --
Elle: People want to know if it was good or bad, Rox.
Rox: Jesus! How many times can we say it is good? Don't we have better things to do than critic the quality of heroin they are serving on stage? What do we care how good King Herod (Peter Kevoian) looks in sequins during the little Vegas song and dance routine? It was great! Period. Who cares that the scrawny guy who played Jesus used to be in Skid Row?
Elle: I care! What next? Lounge Jesus? Big band Jesus and the Swinging Apostles?!! And personally I thought the King Herod and the dancing girls in Vegas was the best scene in the entire play.
Rox: Maybe we can work that into our take on A Jewish Christmas Carol. Listen: this thing is just another story about another hippie rebel who speaks out and gets busted for it.
Elle: Crucified, actually.
Rox: Big deal. Had Andrew Lloyd Weber not made such an amazing musical, I'd be annoyed with all the other exploitation and commercialization.
Elle: Exploitation? And what's with all that Jesus crap in your bathroom? The Jesus and Mary alarm clock, The Jesus nightlight, the Mary novena candle. You've even got a Jesus bath mat for Christ's sake.
Rox: But that stuff is cool since I'm not really into it. It's like how gay men love Teletubbies. Or how divorced women in their sixties think the Hanson's are the bees knees. Or how -- Oh, never mind. I think I've made my point. I'm done. Talk. Review away. I have nothing else to say.
Elle: You just want to go play the CD. And who the hell are the Hanson's? Never mind, I don't want to know. Bottom line: two thumbs up for getting nailed to the cross. Actually, that brings up another point. The crucifixion scene actually...moved me. In a world where we are bombarded with images of bloody death and destruction, this scene had a greater emotional impact on me than any over-the-top, gratuitous violence I see on TV or in the movies. Anyway, go see Jesus as he makes his way across the U.S.
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