“The only problem with Christianity is that it’s never really been tried.” G. Bernard Shaw, playwright and music critic.
Down at the intimate Théâtre Ste. Catherine, the vibes were resonating with the now third annual presentation of Jesus Christ Superband. This is the improv-related spoof of Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock opera which has attained near cult status since its original release as a concept album in 1970.
Superstar made tons of moola for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice as it later became a Broadway play with productions and tours around the world, including even the Shakespeare festival in Stratford, Ontario in 2011.
In the current production, Théâtre Ste. Cat’s stalwart Jackie of all trades, Sandi Armstrong – fresh from giving birth to a bouncing baby boy – is cast as Jesus himself in a white robe, and acquits her/himself well, walking and singing with confidence cloaked in serenity. Jesus Shaves!
Judas, in some sense the real protagonist of the play, is resplendent in a golden robe and powerfully portrayed by Christian Ngabonziza “Ngabo.” Thankfully, when he hangs himself at the end, there is a black-out before he places the noose around his neck so he does not actually die…as did a Judas actor accidentally in a Brazilian passion play a year ago.
King Herod, played by Alain Mercieca, is the theatre’s head and inspiration, who also doubles in comic intervals as punk poet Cornelius discussing things with Stefan Petersen. He prefers tablets, not the new-fangled scrolls – anachronisms reign supreme here (as they do in Superstar).
The show opens with Jesus appearing to his disciples after a 17-year absence. (See the Internet for the lost years of Jesus, from bar mitzvah to preacher.) Groupie-type disciples gather, eager for him to resurrect his super band to counter the depression of the times: Romans with watchtowers everywhere, pot holes galore, and the price of olives is out of sight.
The energetic crowd scenes were choreographed by Théâtre Ste. Cat’s regular Lise Vigneault, who also writhed with the true believers chorus. Is there a performer in town who gets more into her role than her? I doubt it.
The six assembled musicians – two keyboards, two guitars, a bass and drums, abetted by an occasional sax outburst – energetically plowed through two dozen songs. I had never seen or heard Superstar myself, and so was amazed at how many in the audience knew or sang along to some of the most popular titles, which ranged from “Heaven On Their Minds” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” to ”Last Supper.”
The Louch brothers contributed mightily as well, Jeff as Pontius Pilate, with Marc on the set and lighting. The visuals on the giant back screen ranged from lambs and camels to market scenes, and ecumenically, Hasidic and Hindu dancers.
At the end, the crowd heartily joined in dance and song in a near rave mode.
Jesus Christ Superband continues at the Théâtre Ste. Catherine until April 20.
Call 514-284-3939 or visit their website.