Arts & Entertainment

Jesus Christ Superstar is a Hit for Plays in the Park

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EDISON, NJ – The final production of the 2015 Plays in the Park, Jesus Christ Superstar, awed the audience in Roosevelt Park on Monday, August 3. Starring Matt DeMarco as Jesus Christ, Timothy Walton as Judas, and Dana Simone as Mary Magdelene, the production brought energy and excitement to a show, which first opened in 1970 with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics written by Tim Rice.

In the Playbill, producer Gary P. Cohen stated, “For my taste, Jesus Christ Superstar, plays best as a strict Biblical period piece, without the hit them-over-the-head modern day references. To that end I hope you find our interpretation relevant without being 'camp' and contrived.” Cohen's vision of how the play should be produced for a contemporary audience really worked.

Matt DeMarco, who plays the role of Jesus, gives a deliberately subdued performance in Act I. As a neophyte working among lepers, the blind, the lame, the poor, Jesus appears overwhelmed, and he questions God about his mission repeatedly. But as the end approaches, DeMarco's interpretation of Jesus gains in intensity. His final solo, leading into Crucifixion, shows the torment and fear of a torturous death that Jesus must have faced, and then comes the shattering resolution in Jesus's execution on the cross and the final scene, resurrection. DeMarco's haunting performance crescendoes and ultimately leads the observers to an understanding of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice in the Weber and Rice piece.

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The opening song of Superstar, “Heaven on their Minds,” is performed by Judas, played by Timothy Walton. From the first notes, Walton establishes himself as the desparate observer, who repeatedly begs Jesus, for the sake of his occupied people, to cease his meanderings, whipping the Jews into a frenzy over their “Superstar.” Walton's rich voice, the first to be heard in the show, and the last in “Superstar,” captures the pain of a soul “damned for all time.”

Dana Simone's portrayal of Mary Magdalene is excellent as well. Her rendition of the iconic “I Don't Know How to Love Him,” raises the question of what is Mary Magdalene really asking in the piece? Is it carnal love with Jesus that she desires, or is it the realization that in her life as a prostitute she has been missing a spiritual component which she needs to make her whole. The same emotions are conveyed in the heart-breaking “Could We Start Again, Please,” which Mary sings with Peter and the Ensemble as the end of the show approaches.

The stunning basso profundo of Gregory Newton, who plays Caiaphas, rumbles throughout the theatre when he meets with Jesus in the temple and provides the outstanding bass line in the ensemble numbers. Near the conclusion of the first act, Israel Roman is a standout in “Simon Zealotes,” bringing excitement and energy to the stage, which helps to sustain the audience during the brief intermission.

In productions of Jesus Christ Superstar the audience anticipates the comic relief that the character Herod provides in “Herod's Song.” Played by Richard Colonna, Herod sashays across the stage barechested and attired in red and gold pantaloons, commanding Jesus to “prove to me that you're no fool, walk across my swimming pool.” Colonna rises to the occasion, provoking the audience to have a little fun with him before the darkness of Jesus' decline descends.

This is the 53rd year of Plays in the Park, supported by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and provides an incredible opportunity for residents of the county and beyond to see Broadway shows in a beautiful setting. This superb production of Superstar will be running until August 8. The box office opens in Roosevelt Park at 5:30 and tickets are $7 for general admission, $5 for senior citizens. Complimentary admission is offered to Active U.S. Military Service members and their immediate families. 

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