NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows Pt 2
1. Jesus Christ Superstar at the Neil Simon Theatre.
2. Evita at the Marquis Theatre.
I have decided to pair these two productions together for two reasons. Both are from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice team. and both are lacklustre second rate productions of ok musicals, well at least I used to think that they were ok. Perhaps I was wrong?
Jesus Christ Superstar came from an acclaimed sell out Canadian production and all I can say is that up there in Stratford Ontario they must not get out much. Of course this is not entirely true as it originated at the renowned Stratford Shakespeare theatre festival. I saw it on my first day at a matinee, and I refuse to blame the jet lag for my lack of enthusiasm. I was wide awake in disbelief at how poor it was. It reminded me of musical moments on “Glee”, I am a fan of Glee but it is suited to the small screen and not a Broadway stage. Cheap sets, cheesy staging and two lead performances that were completely miscast or misconceived. Chilina Kennedy who plays Mary Magdalene couldn’t hit the notes and most of the time sounded out of tune, her acting was as mechanical as the set. I saw the understudy in the role of Jesus (Nick Cartell), his role was performed so boringly passive it made me aggressive!!! The only saving grace was Tony nominated Josh Young in the role of Judas, he is a fine actor and belted out his numbers with real conviction (it’s a great theatre role), unfortunately his costumes were very oddly fitting and cheap, along with the rest of the cast – the thrift shop suit Jesus wears in the final scenes looked like reject duds from a 70’s blaxploitation film, oversized on a small white man. The score was supposedly so loud they announced you did not have to switch off your cell phones as nobody would hear it. Well it wasn’t that loud and I found the orchestrations very dull and uninspired. A cheap production transported to the great white way, ripping off the tourists who most probably deserved it since they gave it their obligatory standing ovation. I sat put in my seat defiant!! This Superstar was a stinker. Being my first production on this trip I was taken aback and feared for the worst. This week the producers have announced that if sales don’t pick up they will close the show on July 1st marking the production as a big flop as it should be. Perhaps there is a god after all?
Josh Young shines as Judas
Evita is another second hand production that originated in London quite a few years back. Acclaimed director Michael Grandage is responsible for the first ever revival of the hit musical from the late 70’s about the life of the infamous wife of an Argentine dictator. Originally it had star performances from Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin in the roles of Eva Peron and Che Guevara. This time we have dull performances from Elena Roger (recreating her London success) and pop star Ricky Martin who hardly registers at all in his role. This production has abandoned the high theatrics of the original clever Hal Prince staging and opted for a more realistic approach that unfortunately lays bare the tedium of the by the numbers biography elements of the show. Eva is bored in small town, Eva meets high powered politician and beds him, Eva wants power, Eva gets sick, Eva dies. It’s a bit like watching a Hallmark TV movie. Scary that I have compared both shows to television! Now back to the leading actress Elena Roger, she’s a pint sized dynamo in the first few scenes and well suited to the choreography (Rob Ashford doing a great job) they fling her up in the air countless times perhaps because they can. But she lacks the vocal chops that the role demands sounding so shrill it hurt my ears. The gimmick is that she is from Argentina therefore authentic, well unfortunately I didn’t understand very much of what she was singing, thankfully I knew the score. A lady sitting next to me was new to the whole show and was very confused and unimpressed. A saving grace was the standout performance by Michael Cerveris as Eva’s hubby the dictator Juan Peron. He gave the role soul and compassion and has a superb singing voice, very grateful that I got to see this fine performer live on stage. As for the rest of it well lets just say that I’m not crying for Argentina, I’m crying for Broadway mediocrity.
Michael Cerveris in his Tony nominated role as Juan Peron in Evita.
It is interesting that both productions have a standout supporting performer and that both leading ladies have vocal problems. Mr Lloyd Webber and Mr Rice sure have cashed in this year with lazy revivals of old hits. What I am fearing next is that Sir Andrew has a reconceived production of “Cats” waiting in the wings – this time performed on roller-skates with authentic cat fur costumes.