Review by Terry Gaisin
The Webber/Rice Gospel rock musical retelling the last week of Jesus’ life may be four decades old, but it still gleans mixed reviews. Audiences love it; critics range from cold to lukewarm to destructive (i.e. New Yorker Magazine ‘12). This scribe must admit to an ambiguous opinion after three previous takes about ‘Yeshua the Nazarene’. Some were good, others – feh, but City Centre Musical Productions’ take is a serious TOP TEN contender.
With perhaps the exception of a few recent immigrants in Brampton, the story of Easter is universally known. A magnetic leader of a nonconformist cult in Palestine two millennia ago was disrupting the status quo of the religious self-rule of the indigenous Jewish population. He also was becoming a concern to the rulers of Rome; who at that time held sway over most of the civilized world. Obviously, this nuisance situation needed to be resolved.
In CCMP’s representation, director Maria Moore has chosen to forswear the usual frenzied exertions and hyperactivity endemic to a rock musical. Her portrait is more of a Dancap Production-ish style whereby pace never falters but audiences need not exit with sweaty armpits. She gets it just right. The overall impression is effective; creative, and actually benefits from its contemporary feel…something the original collaborators admitted attempting. Still, the pace; impact on the senses; and relationship of sight, sound, and creative special effects keep viewers both focused and attentive. The individual interpretations by leads and especially support cast reek of professionalism. The production is strictly ‘downtown’ in its effectiveness.
The hinge-pin role of Judas Iscariot ‘s deteriorating veneration for the ideals of his mentor make the role both challenging as well as demanding. Christopher Ning projects all the anguish, disillusion and self-recrimination that the original must have endured. His intensity is visceral and yet respectful of being an apostle. The show is his. The sympathetic reading of Simon, deftly played by Jon Manzana is convincing and deep. Like Karl Kwiatkowski’s Peter, the acting and vocal talents of both merit even longer exposure to an audience. The pivotal characters that have the majority of stage time are those of Mary Magdalene and Jesus himself. Cheyenne Harvey is a double threat; impassioned actor and superb vocalist. Her ability to emphasize the lyrics as well as the music, accentuates the impact of both score and dialogue. As the Man himself, Malakai Fox forgoes the annoying continual outspread arms for an intimacy with his clique that is both sensitive and realistic. His voice, especially in dramatic falsetto (no Bee Gees irritations here) is authoritative as well as inspiring. He evokes all of the charisma that the original, of necessity, possessed.
There are some notable support portrayals, first of which is the Pontius Pilate played by Paul Weber. He brings both stature as well as a self-doubt to his representation. One usually doesn’t observe individuals among the ensemble. However, the full-measure efforts and contributions by Laura Moniz, Mandi Vammus, & Laura Tran, prove that in theatre, there are no small roles, only less visible ones! Hopefully their future CCMP parts will be full leads or support readings.
The nine piece orchestra under John Pugh was faultless and never overpowered the voices on-stage. Modest recommendation: – reprise the overture before the Act II curtain. The costumes and unassertive set are eye-catching and affiliate to the plot. The lighting special-effects as well as creative curtain imprint are major contributors to overall impression on the audience. One probably will leave humming one or more of the arias…we did!
JCS will be at Meadowvale Theatre to Mar. 30th. You’ll depart assuredly thinking – “♪Everything’s Alright ♪”.