Jesus, beginning to end

Calendars has sense of humor with staging of modern passion play

By Steve Dunkelberger on December 20, 2007

It seems like an odd time to be staging a show about the death of Jesus when the rest of the world is marking his birth, but I suppose the theater has to take the touring slots that are offered.

Seattle’s Paramount Theatre is staging the rock opera that set the standard in Biblical theater — “Jesus Chris Superstar,” the pounding story and music by the legendary writing team of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

The show is playing at the Paramount Theatre for three performances only and might find itself swallowed up by the endless runs of “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker,” which is too bad because there really isn’t a bad time to see this show.

Featuring such notable songs as “Superstar,” “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the thunderously popular show earned five Tony Award nominations and has seen its share or revivals and touring companies since leaving the Great White Way.

The show, set in two acts, is basically a modern version of the traditional Passion play of the Middle Ages if you remember those growing up in Central Europe.

“Jesus Chris Superstar” tells the story of the final seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, from his triumphant entrance as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to his betrayal at the hands of Judas, conviction at the thumb of a Roman viceroy, and then there is that whole affair with the sadistic carpenter on Mount Calvary. Anyone who has attended any sort of Sunday school or watched Turner Classic Movies around Easter pretty much knows the story.

Now imagine that story being told through rocking songs and guitar solos. That is “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Packaged as the rock opera vision of “the greatest story ever told,” the show strives to be timely and relevant every year it finds its way to a stage by bringing in modern headline issues without losing its timeless message.

Anyone who has seen this show will know of its power not just as a Bible lesson but as a stand-alone musical. Anyone who has not seen it will leave awestruck.

The extra treat in this staging of the show is the fact that internationally known actor Ted Neeley will be playing the role of Jesus. Neeley might not be a household name to the unwashed, but he played the role of Jesus in the Norman Jewison film of the play. Not to be upstaged, the role of the conflicted Judas is played by Corey Glover, best known as the lead singer of the Grammy winning, platinum selling rock band Living Colour. That’s the band that wrote and performed “Cult of Personality” some 15 years ago. Yeah, that guy. He’s going to be Judas.

Glover has also issued albums as a solo artist and acted in television and movies including Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” but this show marks Corey’s theatrical debut.

“What could be better than having Ted Neeley, so grand in the film, on board as we delve into Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s brilliant musical telling of this timeless story,” Director Dallett Norris said in press releases. “Their idea of setting this tale in terms that immediately resonate with today’s audiences is revolutionary. Here we are, twenty-one centuries later, and it is oh, so clear: we need the message of this story now more than ever.”

[Paramount Theatre, 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 22, 1 p.m. Dec. 23, $20-$55, 911 Pine St., Seattle, 206.292.ARTS,]