‘Jesus Christ Superstar’: A Brilliant Resurrection
Kainaliu Village, Kona, is a well-preserved page in the chapter of Kona's coffee plantation history. It's nearly siesta hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon and the Aloha Theatre, a jewel in the crown of this sleepy town, is buzzing with anticipation of what's about to begin. Jesus Christ Superstar, a rock opera written by two brave, young Brits, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, in the midst of bloody Vietnam era 1970, is about to be revived. It's a fairly ambitious endeavor, made up of a significantly large cast, who will sing their hearts through the entire production. There's also the essential ingredient of music, evocative of the rebellious 70s, a recipe of electric guitars, and brass.
The rock opera opens with Judas (Winton Nicholson) descending from a top platform on the stage, he is met by the lead guitar player, who plays a blues-inspired solo, subtly foreshadowing the tragic events to come. The scene is cleverly contrasted by the tune "What's the Buzz?”, as Jesus (Miguel Montez), Judas and Mary Magdalene (Tiffany Kutsunai), are joined by the energetic and momentary, squeaky-clean innocence of apostles and followers. All is well and the future is bright.
Both mood and momentum will change later, however: a very subdued scene of sleep-deprived Pontius Pilate (Peter Anderegg), baring his personal struggle in the tune "Pilate's Dream", is then followed by the seething wrath of "Jesus in the Temple" scene. A noisy, chaotic mêlée of tawdry, hip-swiveling harlots, caged animals and double-dealing charlatans, his brawny arms and brute anger dismantle the scene in a flash, sending feathers flying, chickens squawking.
Kutsunai’s Mary Magdalene shines, reaching a pinnacle in her performance in the ensuing numbers as she attempts to calm Jesus after the temple scene, she convincingly coaxes him into a deep slumber, singing "Let the World Turn Without You Tonight". The next number is her solo piece, "I Don't Know How to Love Him.” Kutsunai reaches a pinnacle in her overall performance, also marking a turning point in the chronology of the entire production. Mary, a flawed woman, a serial sinner and prostitute, bares her soul to the audience. She, the seasoned harlot, in a spiritual and passionately earthy sense, doesn't know what to make of her feelings towards Jesus. She says "he's just a man", that sums it up in a philosophical nutshell. If you don't know this song, it couldn't have come out of any era but the war-torn, bra-burning late 60s to early 70s. It's definitely worth a listen. It slows you down; it makes you reflect on the hauntingly evocative lyrics of this tune.
The brilliance of the actors' performances shines through in their ability to portray the flawed facets in their characters. Jesus wearily confesses to the audience, "too many of you, too little of me", as he fends off crawling lepers and blindfolded beggars. There's the twisted humor of Herod (Brett McCardle), the hedonistic king cum playboy, dismissing Jesus as a charlatan unless he can walk on Herod's swimming pool as his dishy, Roaring-Twenties era flappers nonchalantly dance to the brassy tunes of the band.
Pilate, at the scene of the flagellation, is decked in the formal attire of a highly decorated incarnation of General Patton, rhythmically counting out the number of whiplashes on Jesus's back. In Director Jerry Tracy's notes, he comments on a quote from Pilate, "But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths --- are mine the same as yours?"
Nicholson’s Judas, arguably the most tortured soul of all, struggles both within himself as well as physically in a scene with Jesus. His performance is stellar!
Leaving you with these thoughts, in the dawning of a "post-truth" era, wherever you may be in Hawai'i nei, you've got to make it out here. This is a "must see".