Friday November 24th 2017

“Jesus Christ Superstar”

It seems that Stacey Flaster is everywhere! Having just completed the marvelous “A Class Act” at Theater Wit for Porchlight, and preparing for some of her other upcoming gigs, she managed to take on a smaller task for Big Noise Theatre Company ( her mother is involved with this organization) and has , in my mind, become Stacey Flaster, Superstar! Hew directorial skills are unique and her choreography, amazing! How luck the Chicago theater scene is to have her among those greats who create shows that are more memorable than the originals. Big Noise is a division of Winnetka Theatre and does three or four productions each year. To many, they consider these productions in the “community theater” class, but I must tell you, they are in a class by themselves. What they put on the stage at The Prairie Lakes Theatre in Des Plaines is as close to what we can expect at the other regional theaters. In fact, for this production, I brought with a couple who  are not used to anything outside of the Broadway tours, Marriott, Drury lane and Munster- they ranked this production right up woth the ones they see on a regular basis in those houses.

What makes a solid production is the creative eye of the production team. Not just the director, but the designer, musical director, costumer, lighting and set designer and yes, even the props person. Let’s fact it ; without all the proper ingredients, even the best recipe may not taste the way Grandma made it. With a theatrical production, this also holds true. What they have on their stage is an incredible version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Think back in time on this one- it was over 40 years ago that these two Brits changed the Musical Theater as we knew it. Who would have thought that a topic such as the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth would be accepted as a “musical”? Further, how about a musical without dialogue? Well these two Brits did it and not only did it change the complexion of what we are seeing on our stages year after year, but this particular “Rock Opera” continues to live on and thrill audiences with its glamorous score,; “Hosanna”, “Everything’s Alright”,”Whats the Buzz”,”I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and a host of others that once heard will bring back your memories of the 1970’s.

Flaster and her crew have found a perfect blend of voices to bring this wonderful score to life. This being a “Rock Opera” it is ig great importance that the cast be made up of singers who can act, as there is next to zero conversation, but almost two hours of storytelling with music. The voices of the cast are indeed some of the best you will hear handling some difficult music- the range is multi-level so that many of the male characters defer to falsetto to make a point and while we know that the Gibb brothers were great at doing this, they were not doing so in character and telling a deep and moving story that to many is historical as well as religious. While based on the stories in the bible, we all know that these stories are in many ways fables passed down through the generations where themes are bound to change with the changes of the centuries. “Superstar” is telling us a story, one that may have factual basis, but more than that it is an entertainment experience that may teach a viewer a lesson.

I think it best to understand that while those around Jesus felt he was something else, “The King of Israel”, The son of God or whatever, he never felt that he was anything more than a man- a caring man with a mission ad it was Judas that labeled him “Superstar”.The set designed by Scott Sumerak is simple yet practical for the large cast of ensemble members who dance up a storm. One must realize that Flaster is a choreographer and then a director so movement is key to her productions and some of the new and innovative numbers just prove how creative this woman is. Matt Kool’s lighting is both mood setting and practical with some special effects during the closing scenes that have a great deal of impact on the emotions of the audience. I know I felt a tear or two run down my cheek during this sequence, and heard a number of purses open searching for that needed tissue.

David Lundholm’s costuming, in particular for the Priests is very right-on with both current and historical costumes.Michael Goldman and his three musicans sound like a full orchestra as they fill the auditorium with this Rock Opera, yet they never overpower the singing voices of the cast. The cast- the best way to describe them is WOW! From the ensemble members to Jesus himself and all the characters in between are sheer perfection. Jonathan Lee Cunningham, who does not look what people might want or expect Jesus to appear as has a marvelous voice with great range, but he is an actor first, thus we get all the feeling that belongs with the actor playing this role.Roy J. Brown, is a very young looking Judas, but his voice and range also are what one might expect at a Broadway tour.Lauren Paris as Mary Magdalene is beautiful and dynamic and I must tell you that all four of us found ourselves experiencing chills during her “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”.

It is said by many that if you have the right people playing ( singing) these roles, the show will be a great memory for those who view it, but in Flaster and company’s way of operating, they want you to remember all, so they went overboard in making sure that the entire ensemble was made up of just the right talent.Tommy Bullington’s Herod is divine as he does “Herods Song” with his court- a comic number with skilled dancing that one would find in a typical Musical , but with just a bit of special humor. Caiaphas ( Ken Rubenstein), Anna ( the powerful voiced Sara Jane Blevins) and the priests make the “This Jesus Must Die” a very special moment in the first act and the “Arrest” another special memory. In fact, this production is a solid two hours of great music, acting, dancing and storytelling, and one that I feel is perfect fare for a family to see together.

One of the major problems with theater companies such as Big Noise is that these are actors who do this for the love of theater and pleasing audiences but since they either work or attend school, cannot do long runs. Unfortunately this production will only continue through October 21st with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

The ticket prices are also a treat  $25 adults and seniors $23. I would think reduced rates for children as well. You can purchase these tickets by calling 847-604-0275 or online at www.bignoise.org

The theater is located in DesPlaines at Prairie Lakes Theatre 515 E. Thacker Street. Thacker Street is in reality Dempster just west of Wolf Road

Loads of FREE Parking and even the treats to east and drink are priced at $1.00

Suburbia can be a bargain ( plus the gas is cheaper than Chicago in the ‘burbs, so you can fill up and maybe save enough for the ticket cost.

To see other reviews, visit my HOME page, link to theatreinchicago and then click at review round-up and click “Superstar”

 

 

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