By CHIP CHANDLER
Eleven years ago, Amarillo Little Theatre had an explosive hit with "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Now, the theater has revived the show in an ultra-modern, hip new staging. Will lightning strike twice?
Yes, without a doubt, based on Friday's opening night performance.
The smartly cast, dazzlingly sung "Superstar" is easily the best thing on ALT's Main Stage this season, and one of the strongest shows there in some time, period.
It's not a perfect show, by any means, but ALT's fine staging glosses over some of those troubles. And its powerhouse cast makes you forget, or at least not worry about, some of the weaknesses of the material.
It's hard to remember, in fact, a stronger group of singers put to work on an actual piece of musical theater, rather than the revues that have been so popular lately at ALT. "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" from last season certainly comes to mind, but "Superstar" tops even that.
The shows do share a common thread, though: leading man Jason Hudson. Hudson's dynamic singing, good looks and engaging stage presence serve him well again as the title character in "Superstar," though his voice did sound a little tired on occasion Friday.
He's well matched by his character's nemesis, Judas Iscariot, played by Chuck Alexander in a dramatic departure. Alexander is known for roles that play off his innate likability, but he has to subvert that in playing the role of Jesus' betrayer, and he pretty much pulls it off. There's no question, though, that Alexander's vocals are the strongest in the show.
That's a tall order, though, because "Superstar" is filled with great vocalists. Lindsey Wilkerson makes a dynamite debut as Mary Magdalene, displaying a warm, lush voice.
Devlon D. Jones gets a show-stopping moment as Simon Zealotes, though his voice didn't cut through the throng as well as you'd expect from his past roles.Justin Potter, as Peter, showed that he is continuing to develop as one of ALT's go-to guys, singing better than ever.
That top-to-bottom roster of fine singers particularly helps in "Superstar," because vocals and staging are all this show really has to offer.
Basically, "Superstar's" roots as a concept album show too strongly. Lloyd Webber and Rice wrote the material as a chain of tunes, and even this strong staging can't make up for that.
As a series of songs, "Superstar" is undoubtedly successful, particularly with this cast of fine singers. But as a cohesive musical? It doesn't quite come together. Themes are introduced, but follow-through is lacking.
That's a significant flaw, but it doesn't come close to derailing the show.
Besides the strong singing throughout, director Allen Shankles stages the show vividly, making each moment count, even when "Superstar" doesn't completely tie together. Choreographer Anne Lankford does good work too, though the dancing is performed at varying degrees of competence. Music director Rolando Salazar does powerful work with the orchestra, which hasn't sounded this good in ages. And the set design - credited to Shankles, Gregg Dunlap and David Walsh - is extraordinary.
"Superstar" may have some faults, but none that should damper the thrill for most patrons. Get your tickets soon, though, because they're selling fast.