Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (Paramount Theatre)

| May 9, 2017

Evan Tyrone Martin plays Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre           

Jesus Christ Superstar

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Paramount Theatre, Aurora (map)
thru May 28  |  tix: $44-$59  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets


Webber warhorse given new life in soul-stirring production


Evan Tyrone Martin stars as Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar at Paramount Theatre

Paramount Theatre presents
Jesus Christ Superstar

Review by Catey Sullivan

It’s tough to find words to describe the the vocal magnificence and dramatic intensity of Paramount Theatre’s extraordinary production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice’s (lyrics) warhorse blazes from the eerie opening notes of the overture to the climactic, roof-raising gospel glory of its final come-to-Jesus Avionce Hoyles stars as King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatremoment.

Like all of Webber’s scores, JCSS has plenty of potential for bombast and scenery chewing. Director Ron Kellum’s almighty ensemble doesn’t just avoid the temptation to turn the set into toothpicks. It fills every last note with honesty that captures the heightened emotion without tumbling into overwrought hokum.

In telling the Biblical tale of Jesus’ last days on earth, Kellum makes the events more than two millennia in the rear-view mirror scream with urgency.

Part of the resonance is rooted in the ethnic makeup of the cast. Kellum’s ensemble is all African-American, a casting choice that flies in the face of 40 years of tow-headed, blue-eyed Jesuses leading a corps of equally pale disciples. Traditionally, Judas is the sole person of color in any given JCSS cast, even though, historically, that’s never made sense. The plot unfolds circa 0 B.C., in the Middle East. That segment of the globe was hardly a bastion of creamy-skinned Anglos.

Felicia Boswell and Gilbert Domally star as Mary Magdalene and Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Mykal Kilgore and  Evan Tyrone Martin star as Judas Iscariot and Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ SuperstarMykal Kilgore (left, on stairs) plays Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre

But there’s more than historical accuracy at play in Kellum’s production. Given the casting, Judas’ opening plea veritably explodes with urgency:

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

He continues:

I am frightened by the crowd,
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.”

If you can’t see the connection between Judas’ terror and the current state of race relations in the U.S., you’ve got your head in the sand (and probably up your ass as well).

Still, this isn’t just an ensemble of color. It’s an ensemble of outsized talent that delivers the treacherously demanding score with both technical virtuosity and emotional heft.

There are numerous songs that call for the full cast to embody everything from otherworldly ecstasy to hair-raising terror to inconsolable sorrow. This group nails them all. “The Last Supper,” is instilled with both drunken camaraderie and air-tight acapella harmonies. The frenzy of lust and greed in the temple feels like an orgy in the NASDAQ trading floor 30 seconds before the Friday closing bell before a long weekend. And in the post-crucifixion finale, the group goes full-on gospel choir giving a last-chance encore that seems to reach to the threshold of the Pearly Gates.

Evan Tyrone Martin plays Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre Mykal Kilgore as Judas Iscariot, with Renellé Nicole, Kafi Pierre and Reneisha Jenkins in Jesus Christ SuperstaEvan Tyrone Martin (center) plays Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar at Paramount TheatreEvan Tyrone Martin (center) plays Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramamount

The duel epicenter of Paramount’s production is Evan Tyrone Martin’s Jesus and Mykal Kilgore’s Judas Escariot. Both are up to the mighty demands of shining through that splendid ensemble. Martin has a luminous quality that befits the role. Still, this Jesus isn’t some ethereal, halo-ed superhero. Instead of portraying Jesus as the beatific, serene figure of endless kindness, patience and forgiveness, Evans gives us a deeply conflicted mortal besieged by doubt.

In the make-or-break 11th hour “Gethsemane,” Martin takes the audiences through a maelstrom of grief and rage. There’s acid in his voice as he demands to know the purpose of his death and excoriates his father for being “far too keen on when and how but not so hot on why.” And there’s bitterness in his final, exhausted plea to “take me now, before I change my mind.” Martin’s Jesus faces the same universal existential doubt we all do: That his life and death will ultimately be meaningless.

Kilgore’s Judas is a formidable match for the so-called (by the Romans) King of the Jews. When Judas lashes out in “Damned for All Time,” it’s as if he’s on fire from within, desperate to escape a scorching damnation that’s burning him alive. And when he joins Mary Magdalene and Peter for reprise of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” Judas becomes a profoundly empathetic portrait of remorse of the haunting, hunted kind. The number is a fitting precursor for a death scene that’s graphic and indelible.

The supporting players are just as memorable. Felicia Boswell’s Mary Magdalene has the unmistakable sensuousness of a woman who has long made a living with her body. Her “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is an anthemic declaration of pure, overwhelmed love unlike any she’s had before.

Felicia Boswell and Evan Tyrone Martin star as Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ SuperstarEvan Tyrone Martin (center) plays Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre

As Caiaphas, Lorenzo Rush, Jr. has a basso profundo that reaches down to the subterranean depths of Hades. As Pilate, Rufus Bonds, Jr.’s take on“Pilate’s Dream” will make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up. As Herod, Avionce Hoyles makes “Herod’s Song” a Vegas-worthy floorshow starring a one-person trinity of Beyoncé, Liberace and James Brown.

Kellum makes a misstep with his use of projections – showing jumbo-tron sized close ups of Jesus during his more dramatic scenes hammers home the obvious. That said, the design elements are excellent here. Kevin Depinet’s set evokes the towering strength of the Roman Empire, and references the pagan gods of the era. When the show shifts to the crucifixion, we get a cross worthy of Rio’s Cristo Redentor.

Lighting designer Greg Hofmann captures the gold-hued happiness of Palm Sunday as well as the glowering darkness of Good Friday. Theresa Ham’s costumes are a mix of drapey, dun-colored garments (Jesus’ followers) and formidably elaborate robes that telegraph power and luxury.

In his final scenes, Kellum makes a radical, evangelical departure from the way Jesus Christ Super Star usually wraps up – which is usually with a a bleak, abrupt blackout and Jesus dead on the cross. Kellum goes somewhere else entirely. We won’t indulge in spoilers, so suffice to say the entire cast shows up for a glitter-bomb of an encore that features micro-minis and gogo boots and flying. Is it so far over the top you can practically see St. Peter at the Gates? Yes. Does it work in this context? You better believe it.

Rating: ★★★★

Jesus Christ Superstar continues through May 28th at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora (map), with performances Wednesdays 1:30pm & 7pm, Thursdays 7pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 1pm & 5:30pm.  Tickets are $44-$59, and are available by phone (630-896-6666) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)

Evan Tyrone Martin and Lorenzo Rush Jr. star as Jesus of Nazareth  and Caiaphas

Photos by Liz Lauren




Evan Tyrone Martin (Jesus), Mykal Kilgore (Judas Iscariot), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdalene), Rufus Bonds Jr. (Pontius Pilate), Avionce Hoyles (King Herod, Annas), Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Caiaphas), Stephen "Blu" Allen, Jos N. Banks, Ciera Dawn, Gilbert Domally, Candace C. Edwards, Jared D.M. Grant, Keirsten Hodgens, Mark J.P. Hood, Reneisha Jenkins, Micheal Lovette, Gabriel Mudd, Brian Nelson Jr., Renelle Nicole, Jaymes Osborne, Kafi Pierre, Jon Pierce, Travis Porchia, Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston, Jessica Brooke Seals (ensemble).

behind the scenes

Ron Kellum (director), Tom Vendafreddo and Kory Danielson (music directors), Kevin Depinet (set design), Theresa Ham (costume design), Greg Hofmann (lighting design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), Adam Rosenthal (sound design), Trent Stork (associate director), Ethan Deppe (electronic music design), Katie Cordts (wig, hair and makeup design), Amanda Relaford (properties design), R&D Choreography (choreographer), Kafi Pierre (associate choreographer), Vic Bayona and Rick Gilbert (violence designe), Roger Ellis (dramaturg), Hannah Wichmann (stage manager), Nora Mally (assistant stage manager), Liz Lauren (photos)

Evan Tyrone Martin and Rufus Bonds, Jr. star as Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar Evan Tyrone Martin stars as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at Paramount TheatreRufus Bonds, Jr. and Evan Tyrone Martin star as Pontius Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar Mark J.P. Hood and Evan Tyrone Martin star as Simon Zealotes and Jesus in Paramount TheatreFelicia Boswell and Evan Tyrone Martin star as Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar 2


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Catey Sullivan, Musical, Paramount Theatre, Tim Rice, Video, YouTube

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