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Difficult vocals and clumsy staging spoil MTG's latest

Jesus Christ Superstar
MIT Musical Theatre Guild.
Written by Andrew Lloyd Weber
and Tim Rice.
Directed by Larry Taylor
and Terry Alkasab '92.
Starring Derek A. Clark '90,
Joseph E. Bondaryk G, Nelson Sharfman '92, and Nina Irani '96.
Student Center Sala de Puerto Rico.
Feb. 4-6, 8 p.m.

By Joshua M. Andresen
Staff Reporter

The Musical Theatre Guild's production of Jesus Christ Superstar is technically sloppy and badly sung overall. It has its redeeming moments, but they are few and far between.

Jesus Christ Superstar is the Christ story as told by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. It begins with the moment that Judas decides to betray Christ and ends with the crucifixion. The writers take an interesting interpretation of the roles of Judas and Pilate in Christ's death, implying that they were merely pawns in a game, the outcome of which was determined long before the two came to be part of it.

MTG's major problem with Jesus Christ Superstar is the high singing ranges expected of the leads. The parts of Judas and Jesus were written for tenors with the ability to reach very high notes, something neither Joseph Bondaryk G as Judas nor Derek Clark '90 as Jesus has. They end up screaming, squeaking, or even speaking the parts that were meant to be sung in the upper tenor range. This sounds bad at best and simply ridiculous at worst, ruining many of the numbers. Ryan Caveney '96 as Simon also has trouble singing the higher notes in his song. All three sing quite well within their capacities, particularly Clark, but the range problem ruined the effect as a whole.

On the other end of the scale, the lead antagonists are solid basses and Nelson Sharfman '92 as Caiaphas and Kathryn Cousar W '94 as Annas can not sing low enough. They sing the appropriate passages up an octave rather than try to croak out the lower notes. This makes the songs smooth, but the low notes are meant to be low, and singing them up an octave detracts from the intended effect.

Those leads who can sing their parts are excellent, though. Nina Irani '96 as Mary Magdalene and Robert Wickham '93 as Pilate sing accurately and very effectively. Both were expressive and acted their singing lines with impressive skill. They stood out against the rest of the cast who were awkward actors.

The technical aspects of this production, specifically the microphone setup, are ultimately responsible for the ruined performance. For most of the musical, Judas and Jesus have personal microphones while the other performers rely on standard mikes distributed about the stage. Anyone without a personal mike either has to stand in place to sing his lines or move about and fade in and out of the amplifiers. Either effect is annoying. For "Everything's Alright," Mary clings to Jesus for most of the song in order to sing into his personal mike. Even then she fades in and out as some movement is attempted. This is not elegant at all. In one scene, a group of reporters shout questions out to Jesus. Again, most are able to project their lines into Jesus' personal mike, but one of the reporters is too short and her line is lost altogether.

The other problem the stage mikes present is background noise. Quite often the sound of scuffling or stepping feet is broadcast over the speakers.

This is not the only technical problem. For the hanging of Judas, he is connected to a cable, which takes about thirty seconds. He then steps off the stage for only about five seconds before stepping back on stage to be disconnected. The effect is not worth the trouble. On the other hand, when Jesus is supposed to be nailed to the cross, Jesus stands looking silly on center stage while the sound of nails being pounded comes over the speakers. The pit orchestra plays the ascending rip that is supposed to accompany the raising of the cross before Jesus finally goes to stand in front of the already standing cross.

The show does have its delightful moments, though. The pit orchestra, under the direction of Carson Schutze G, is wonderful throughout. "King Herod's Song" is also very entertaining, featuring Chris Merkel '95 as Herod and Nate Ritter '93 as Herod's bare-chested guard (Ritter hasn't found his shirt since his role in MTG's production of Pippin). The showstopper "Superstar" is also nicely done if the microphone problem is ignored.