|"Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway; photo by Joan Marcus|
My first dose of musical theater was through my uncle’s old screechy phonograph recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hippie, loud, angst-laden rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” (JCS). The classic stage hit, which was originally a concept album before evolving into a full-blown Broadway musical that follows the passion and death of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot (much the same as Martin Scorsese’s highly controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ”), had completed its three-year run on Broadway (1971-1973), and its first commercial movie release (1973) by the time I got to experience JCS’s electrifying, personally-impactful songs in the ‘80s though. So when the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Toronto, Canada announced late last year that its critically-acclaimed, deemed revolutionary production of JCS, directed by Tony winner Des McAnuff, was coming to Broadway, I was delighted to hear the news; and more so when I learned that three Filipino-Canadian musical theater artists – brothers Julius and Jason Sermonia, and Laurin Padolina – are part of the show.
“99 percent of the Broadway cast performed in McAnuff’s production in Canada,” said the older Sermonia, Julius, who plays the role of Jesus’ disciple Peter whenever the original Peter, Mike Nadajewski, fills in the shoes of the flamboyant King Herod at some of the performances.
“And yes, I’m proud to be a Filipino,” Julius told me the first time I met him.
|Brothers Julius and Jason Sermonia; photo by|
Julius’ brother, Jason, who is engaged to Canadian actress Melanie Mcinenly, plays the role of Jesus’ disciple John in the Tony-nominated revival production of JCS. His other theater credits include “Camelot” (his first stint at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival), Disney’s “The Lion King” in Las Vegas, “Dirty Dancing,” “We Will Rock You,” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “The King & I,” and “West Side Story,” among others. He was also cast as one of the dancers in Rob Marshall’s Academy Award-winning film adaptation of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Broadway musical “Chicago,” released in 2002.
Laurin Padolina, whose roots were in Quezon province in the Philippines, was born and raised in Vancouver, plays Rachel in JCS, her Broadway debut. She is a professional dancer and a choreographer who had worked with the choreographers for Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, among others.
JCS’s brand marketers have been positioning the show as revolutionary, which I beg to differ: Similar to Stephen Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak’s “Godspell,” JCS’ core creative concept, hippie lyrics were indeed subversive at the time the stage adaptation premiered in the early ‘70s; the JCS presentation I saw on Wednesday barely rewrote any of Rice’s original lyrics to make it sound even more provocative.
|Curtain call; photo by Oliver Oliveros|
Evidently, McAnuff drops the heavily bohemian attributes of the original Broadway production and its film counterpart, and replaces these pretty tired decades-old elements with an urban swag, exuberant party vibe, which, for me – apart from the Filipinos in the cast and Young's breathtaking performance as Judas – makes this incarnation of the sung-through, landmark rock musical one of the must-sees this Tony Award season.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of JCS continues to play at the Nederlanders’ Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd Street. For tickets, visit www.superstaronbroadway.