By Erin DeCaprio
alexandrianews.org Theater Review

Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene), Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes), Theo Touitou (Ensemble), Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth), Tyrone Brown Jr. (Ensemble), Michael Gale (Peter), Hilary Adams (Ensemble), Tracey Lucas (Ensemble) Photo Credit: Matt Liptak

For more than 40 years, audiences have been flocking to the timeless and powerful rock opera from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, so it was no surprise to find a full house on a rainy opening night at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Neither was there any surprise in the story of Jesus’ journey to martyrdom being told through the legendary rock opera on stage. The surprises came with Director Jim Howard’s modern vision of the Biblical tale and the minimalist aesthetic from Matt Liptak, a departure from LTA’s usually elaborate set design. These twists provide an interesting backdrop for a wonderfully enthusiastic cast and orchestra in a solid overall production.

Howard and Liptak have given us a modern-era corporate setting, an uncluttered industrial space highlighted by a prominent “INRI” logo that consumes the background throughout the play. This familiar office setting is inhabited by what appear to be a full spectrum of employees and managers wielding cell phones, laptops and lattes as they are introduced as followers of their guru, Jesus of Nazareth (Rishabh Bajekal). Lacking the traditional robe and sandals, this Jesus would play well in a black turtleneck and wire-rimmed glasses, the hotshot upstart who threatens to overturn the corporate status quo. This is an updated version of messiah that isn’t entirely unfamiliar in today’s celebrity culture: a popular savior of the people, hated by the executive who seek to silence and ultimately destroy him.

The orchestra, led by Music Director Christopher A. Tomasino, give a near flawless performance, visible to audience on the upper level of the set, with soloists stepping forward during a couple of numbers for well-earned recognition. The choreography, from Michael Page and assistant Liz Colandene, elegantly maneuvers a large ensemble around a crowded stage, giving the dancers appropriate highlights without pushing them beyond their abilities or the limitations of the space. The movement feels organic, flowing easily from one number to the next without the benefit of scene breaks. This kind of continuous choreography is a challenge that this team makes nearly invisible.

Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene
Photo Credit: Matt Liptak

The performances are uniformly excellent. Bajekal’s Jesus excels in his quietest moments (his “Gethsemane” was particularly moving), while Carlos Antonio Ramirez brings an intensity to Judas that almost overwhelms, especially in Act 2. Thea Simpson is angelic as Mary Magdelene, with a powerful yet effortless voice that conveys both vulnerability and strength along her character’s arc. And, of course, King Herod, played with spectacular energy and schmaltz by Andy Izquiero, is as outrageous and entertaining as any portrayal I’ve seen.

Other standouts among the supporting cast are Cody Boehm leading a rapturous “Simon Zealotes” and Amy Lapthorne, who channels the gleeful cruelty of Annas through an executive/HR persona that carries the corporate analogy, even when the rest of the show seems to have forgotten about it.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs through Aug. 11 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p. m. and Sundays at 3 p. m. For ticketing information, contact the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.