Of the many Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a personal favorite of mine. It rocks, it moves and…it’s back. After a lengthy absence, the award-winning musical has returned to the Chicago area, this time with a bit of a twist as, unlike past productions, the show features an all African American cast. This, opposed to the nearly all white cast complete with a black Judas that we are accustomed to seeing. And, the tremendously gifted cast works so very well in this revival piece. The change is bold and should be commended. And the execution is nearly flawless.
With one of the greatest rock operas of all time currently finding its temporary home at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, we know by the end of the production’s first number, “Heaven on Their Minds”, that Mykal Kilgore, who takes on the demanding role of “Judas”, is a special talent. We also get an idea within the next few numbers (“What’s the Buzz?”, “Strange Thing, Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”) how deep the talent pool goes in this one-of-a-kind production.
Reliving the last days of Jesus Christ leading up to the crucifixion, the timeless musical, which premiered on Broadway on October 12th, 1971, is set to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, in what began as a rock opera concept album by the two in 1970. Since, it has been one of the most successful musicals of all time gathering a loyal fan-base from all over the world. In Jesus Christ Superstar, we visit Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and Mary Magdalene, as he performs miracles and brings hope to the world while claiming he is the son of God, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees and scribes who see him as a threat to their teachings – a threat they would like removed so much they ask the Romans for help.
In Paramount’s current production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fifteen-piece orchestra paves the way for the talented performers who leave their mark in one number after another. Kilgore goes on to navigate through each song with skilled precision and sings with amazing depth. And while Kilgore impresses more and more as the show progresses by staying true (and then some) to the “Judas” that both Murray Head and Carl Anderson made famous, Felicia Boswell is also quick to excite the audience with her moving interpretation of Mary Magdalene, particularly in the popular “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Beautiful, graceful and vocally dynamic, Boswell brings a gentle warmth to the role, wonderfully capturing the love that Mary had for Jesus. Throughout the production, remarkable performances are abundant with Rufus Bonds Jr. taking the reins in a very commanding depiction of Pontius Pilate, so well delivering the message of his conflict to have Jesus crucified at the request of the mob that is influenced by the religious law makers or to set him free since no Roman law has been broken. Lorenzo Rush Jr. also leaves a strong presence as the baritone-wielding Caiaphas who leads the charge against Jesus, fearing that he will revolutionize Jewish law.
Jesus of Nazareth is commendably played Evan Tyrone Martin. Martin aptly captures the virtue and charisma needed for the role of and is convincing while conveying just how tiring it can be to be the son of God. Martin’s voice is strong and he has little trouble carrying the many challenging melodies that come with playing Jesus, though the patented screams that both Ted Neeley (film version) and Ian Gillan (concept album) had incorporated into the role were absent, leaving a couple prime crescendo moments to the wayside. Still, Martin holds his own, even getting a much-deserved extended applause after his riveting performance of “Gethsemane”, a powerful number where Jesus questions why it is that he must die.
The show’s ensemble is nothing short of amazing, the actors changing back and forth from disciples, to Pharisees to lepers to soldiers ever so efficiently. At one point, Mark J.P. Hood breaks rank from the ensemble as Simon and superbly performs one of the show’s highlight numbers “Simon Zealotes”, where he praises Jesus and urges him to build an army to fight the powers of Rome. Another crowd-pleasing moment (among the countless others) occurs when Jesus is brought forth to Herod (Avionce Hoyles) in a glittery display that dazzles in the somewhat jazzy “Herod’s Song”. Kudos to Hoyles who thrusts the role of Herod into another stratosphere.
Paramount’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a fascinating production that entertains nonstop from its opening overture to its near-finale number “Superstar”. Featuring a wealth of acting and singing talent and a rockin’ orchestra that does the soundtrack right, this could possibly be one of the most polished, expressive and enjoyable musicals to come our way in some time.
Superb. This beautiful production is super recommended.
Magnificently directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum with music direction by Tom Vendafreddo, Jesus Christ Superstar is being performed at Paramount Theatre through May 28th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.
What began as a 1970’s rock opera concept album became a global stage phenomenon that captured seven Tony Award nominations and countless awards overseas in its 40-plus years.
Jesus Christ Superstar, the beloved rock opera that explores the story and internal struggles of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history - Jesus - is the 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, April 19-May 28, 2017 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.
While thousands of productions have taken the stage in 31 countries, Paramount's is surely the production the theater community in Chicago and around the country will be talking about.
We already know Jesus Christ Superstar features music by the most successful composer of our generation, Andrew Lloyd Webber, with indelible lyrics by Tim Rice. Hits include "Everything's Alright," "Heaven on Their Minds," "Hosanna," "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Superstar."
With nationally recognized director and producer Ron Kellum making his Paramount debut with Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago will be introduced to a director and choreographer whose experience ranges from being an artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA to staging major sports spectacles such as last month's 2017 NFL Pro Bowl halftime show.
Paramount veterans Tom Vendafreddo and Kory Danielson will collaborate as co-music directors in leading the cast and a 14-piece live rock band.
The A-list production design team includes Kevin Depinet, set design; Theresa Ham, costume design; Greg Hofmann, lighting design; Mike Tutaj, projection design; and Adam Rosenthal, sound design.
So what's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happenin'?
Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar will feature an all-black cast led by Broadway and regional musical theater veteran Destan Owens as Jesus of Nazareth. Owens's Broadway credits include Tom Collins in Rent, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Adrian in Smokey Joe's Café and Hawker in The Who's Tommy 15th Anniversary Concert.
Paramount Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar will be directed by (from left) Ron Kellum. The cast includes Destan Owens (Jesus), Mykal Kilgore (Judas Iscariot), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdalene), Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Pontius Pilate), Avionce Hoyles (King Herod/Annas) and Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Caiaphas).
The ensemble features (pictured above, top, from left) Stephen "Blu" Allen, Jos N. Banks, Ciera Dawn, Gilbert Domally, Candace C. Edwards, Jared D.M. Grant, Keirsten Hodgens, (row 2) Mark J.P. Hood, Reneisha Jenkins, Micheal Lovette, Evan Tyrone Martin, Gabriel Mudd, Brian Nelson Jr., Renellè Nicole, (row 3) Jaymes Osborne, Kafi Pierre, Jon Pierce, Travis Porchia, Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston and Jessica Brooke Seals.
"This is an incredible opportunity to unite the retelling of one of the greatest stories with an iconic piece of musical theater through the voices and lens of my community," said Jesus Christ Superstar director Ron Kellum. "'Why an all-black Superstar?' 'Why not.' Our responsibility as storytellers is to find ways to represent truth in ways that translate to every audience no matter of color, creed, orientation or status. This will be a soul stirring experience!"
"Wait until you hear the voices singing in the grand finale of this season, presented for you in a powerful new production directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum!" said Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti. "I dare to say it speaks to the state of the art as intriguingly as it does to the state of the union! It is a contemporary thrill ride of a production with a cast as beautiful as the vision of its director!"
Jesus Christ Superstar: Dates, times and ticket information
Previews start April 19. Press opening is Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. Performances run through May 28: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $44 to $59. The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, is surrounded by affordable parking and new restaurants for pre- or post-show dining.
For tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to evening performances.
Jesus Christ Superstar is rated PG.
About Jesus Christ Superstar
A rock star stands center stage, awash in lights while tens-of-thousands of adoring fans repeat every word he sings. An endless sea of bodies stands for hours shivering in the freezing temps just to say they were there when the new leader of the free world was sworn in. We love and celebrate our idols; we always have...that is, until we move on to our next idol.
Jesus Christ Superstar is not just the story of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history. It's the story of the close friend who tried to save him and why that friend eventually betrayed him. It's a story of love and fear, of kindness and greed, of expectations and what happens when those expectations are not met.
This is an energized rock opera that delves into the internal struggles of those mortals, those humans - including Jesus himself - as they drew closer to one of the most pivotal moments in history. It's an emotionally-charged journey in which, in the end, each person discovers something about themselves when the stakes are at their highest.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most successful composer of musicals of his generation and also a breaker of molds for the type. His first collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice was Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. The two soon hit on the idea of writing a musical based on the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas, and, like Joseph, imbued with a strong rock and roll influence. Unable to finance a stage version, Lloyd Webber and Rice did manage to record their show, and in 1970, the album Jesus Christ Superstar went on to sell millions all over the world. The musical version debuted on Broadway in 1971, earning 5 Tony nominations and a Drama Desk Award for Sondheim for "Most Promising Composer." The 1973 film version remains a 1970's rock opera cult classic.
Behind the scenes: Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar
Ron Kellum (director) is a seasoned director and producer with experience ranging from sports entertainment to theater, film and television. He serves as a senior producer for e2k, co-director for the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii and co-producer for the NFL Pro Bowl United Way Thanksgiving Halftime Show. Kellum produced the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team Launch at Paramount Studios as well as several high-profile press and VIP events for Monster CES in Las Vegas. His directing and choreography credits included Iron Man 2 starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as the musicals Chicago, The Color Purple, A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Rent, Once on This Island, 5 Guys Named Moe, Ain't Misbehavin' and Smokey Joe's Café. He appeared on Broadway in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Chicago, and he toured nationally in Aida, Dreamgirls, Fosse and Chicago. Learn more at ronkellum.com.
Tom Vendafreddo (co-music director and conductor) is helming his 12th consecutive musical at Paramount, preceded by In the Heights, Mary Poppins, The Who's Tommy, Les Misérables (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Oklahoma! (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), A Christmas Story - The Musical (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, West Side Story (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Mamma Mia!, Disney's The Little Mermaid and Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Other credits include Company and Sweet Charity (Writers Theatre); On the Town and Godspell (Marriott Lincolnshire); Road Show and Shrek: The Musical (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Spitfire Grill (BoHo Theatre - Jeff Nomination for Music Direction); and Pump Boys and Dinettes (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre). Regional credits include Rent (San Diego Musical Theatre), Odyssey (Old Globe Theatre), Forever Plaid (Chestnut Fine Arts) and It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Cygnet Theatre). As a cabaret artist, he has performed in Chicago, New York, San Diego and Melbourne. In 2014, he became the Founding Artistic Director of the Chicago Artists Chorale, a choral ensemble of working professionals in the Chicago theatre community. He received a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Music Education from Eastman School of Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University. tomvendafreddo.com
Kory Danielson (co-music director and conductor) is coming back for his 10th consecutive musical at the Paramount, following Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, A Christmas Story - The Musical, Oklahoma!, Les Misérables and The Who's Tommy. Other Chicago credits includeAssassins, The Full Monty, Loving Repeating, Heathers, Tomorrow Morning (Kokandy Productions); Passion (2014 Jeff Award for Outstanding Music Direction), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Theo Ubique); How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Porchlight Music Theatre); Hedwig, Wedding Singer (Haven Theatre); and Zanna, Don't!, Lucky Stiff, Triumph of Love (The Music Theatre Company). Danielson has also worked with Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Bailiwick and Hell in a Handbag.
Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar production team also includes Trent Stork, associate director; Kafi Pierre, associate choreographer; Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup designer; Amanda Relaford, properties designer; R&D Choreography, Vic Bayona and Rick Gilbert, violence designers; Roger Ellis, dramaturg; Hannah Wichmann, stage manager; and Nora Mally, assistant stage manager.
Jesus Christ Superstar is sponsored by the Daily Herald. Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and The Dunham Fund. Broadway Series Orchestra Sponsor is Rush-Copley Medical Center. Broadway Series Lighting Sponsor is ComEd. Broadway Series Costume Sponsor is Gerald Kia. Jesus Christ Superstar is also sponsored by the Daily Herald.
More about Paramount's 2016-17 Season
In addition to Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount's season also includes Home Free (Mar. 24), Madeleine Peyroux and Rickie Lee Jones (Mar. 25), Golden Dragon Acrobats (Mar. 26),
Riverdance: 20 Years(Mar. 31-Apr. 2, five shows), Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel (Jun. 10, two shows) and Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was... (Jun. 11). Back in 2016-17 is the Classic Movie Monday series, presenting everyone's favorite flicks on a two-story screen for just $1. Paramount also serves the community with low-cost children's shows designed to entertain while they educate: Miss Nelson is Missing (Mar. 22) and Laura Ingalls Wilder(Mar. 23).
For subscriptions, single tickets or more information, go to ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora.
About the Paramount Theatre
The Paramount Theatre (ParamountAurora.com) is the center for performing arts, entertainment and arts education in Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois. Named "One of Chicago's Top 10 Attended Theatres" by the League of Chicago Theatres, the 1,888-seat Paramount, located in downtown Aurora at 23 E. Galena Blvd., is nationally recognized for the quality and caliber of its presentations, superb acoustics and historic beauty.
The Paramount opened on September 3, 1931. Designed by renowned theater architects C.W. and George L. Rapp, the theater captures a unique Venetian setting portrayed in the art deco influence of the 1930s. The first air-conditioned building outside of Chicago, the Paramount offered the public a variety of entertainment, including "talking pictures," vaudeville, concerts and circus performances for more than 40 years.
In 1976, Aurora Civic Center Authority purchased the Paramount and closed the theater for restoration. The $1.5 million project restored the Paramount to its original grandeur. On April 29, 1978, the Paramount Arts Center opened, offering a variety of theatrical, musical, comedy, dance and family programming. In 2006, a 12,000-square-foot, two-story Grand Gallery lobby was added, with a new, state-of-the-art box office, café and art gallery.
Today, the Paramount self-produces its own Broadway Musical Series, presents an eclectic array of comedy, music, dance and family shows, and on most Mondays, screens a classic movie.
The Paramount Theatre is one of three live performance venues programmed and managed by the Aurora Civic Center Authority (ACCA). ACCA also oversees the Paramount's "sister" stage, the intimate, 173-seat Copley Theatre located directly across the street from the Paramount at 8 E. Galena Blvd., as well as RiverEdge Park, downtown Aurora's summer outdoor concert venue.
The Paramount Theatre continues to expand its artistic and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Tim Rater, President and CEO, Aurora Civic Center Authority; Jim Corti, Artistic Director, Paramount Theatre; a dedicated Board of Trustees and a devoted staff of live theater and music professionals.
For tickets and information, go to ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.
In 1931 nine African American teenagers were wrongly accused of raping two white women while aboard a freight train in Alabama. Worried they might get imprisoned for prostitution while traveling aboard the same train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates quickly cried rape, diverting the attention rather to the handful of innocent boys. These nine boys became known as The Scottsboro Boys, growing more and more infamy as their many trials became public interest throughout the nation. Fighting through Southern angry mobs, an all-white jury and a trial that was hastened, the nine boys were quickly convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. As word spread of the prejudice demonstrated, Northerners eventually stepped in to see that such a miscarriage of justice be overturned, but that was just the beginning of a process clouded by an ugly and unjust preconception. The uphill fight was long and grueling and successes were slow in the making. The story, superbly performed by Porchlight Music Theatre, is remarkable, sad and hopeful.
Written by David Thompson and directed by Samuel G. Roberson, “The Scottsboro Boys” is a controversial musical, now making its debut in Chicago after Broadway and London runs, and is the last featuring the music and lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebb, mostly known for their triumphant smash hits “Chicago” and “Cabaret”. The story, a compelling and emotional ride through the racist South is a painful lesson of our nation’s dark history and serves as a stark reminder that change for a better world must never be ignored as we move forward as a unified people.
Throughout the musical’s duration, we see an image of a pained Rosa Parks (Cynthia Clarey) who plays witness to the injustices that take place. Though her stand wouldn’t take place until years later, we see the effect such a stirring account would have on approaching generations. Sad as this tragic story as such is, we feel hope for the future by the play’s end and a realization for the work that still needs to be done.
“This is a story that needs to be told,” says Mark J.P. Hood who stars as Mr. Tambo.
The nearly all African American cast delivers several all-around brilliant performances, doling out tremendous vocal harmony efforts, powerful acting and dance numbers that are both inventive and energetic. Currently running at Stage 773, a mid-sized theatre, the only drawback is that it is easy to envision the musical preformed on a larger stage, sometimes routines appearing a bit crowded. Still, that’s a very small drawback, because the play’s director is able to utilize its given space to maximize this Broadway-sized show effectively, moving boxcars and all.
Denzel Tsopnang and Mark J.P. Hood lead this gifted ensemble along with James Earl Jones II with commanding acting performances that would be hard to beat. The Scottsboro Boys is a real showcase for both Tsopnang and Hood, who flex their versatility while taking on a handful of roles. Veteran actor Larry Yondo, most recently known for his spot-on portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol”, also puts forth yet another admirable effort as The Interlocutor. With several beautiful vocal harmonies that sweep the house with robust sentiment, it is perhaps “Go Back Home”, a pivotal number that relates to those longing to find peace passionately led by Jones II, that will truly resonate with theatre goers long after the show. Though the vocal finesse is abundant throughout, fourteen-year-old Cameron Goode and Stephen Allen Jr. somehow find room to dazzle us even more.
As jaw dropping as many of the numbers are in their performance, the audience often finds reluctance in their clapping, the weight of the subject matter almost seemingly inappropriate to applaud. But it is in these performances that the story is told so well. A handful of poignant casting twists take place as the white policemen and the woman accusers are played by African Americans.
“The Scottsboro Boys” is a highly recommended theatre experience, both exceptional in its performance and its ever-important message. Wonderfully staged, acted and sung, this is a thoroughly entertaining production that will invoke much thought, inspire bravery and encourage action to be taken long afterwards.
“The Scottsboro Boys” is being performed at Stage 773 through March 12th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.
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