#straydogsuperstar Says It All As They Present Their Take On “Jesus Christ Superstar”

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The crowds surround Jesus (Omega Jones) in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo: John Lamb

Despite the Easter Sunday presentation on NBC, I was looking forward to my favorite (though probably not his best) Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Not to be outdone, Stray Dog Theatre matched them pretty much move for move, note for note and character for character and even outdid the TV team in several areas. Another triumph for our local theatre scene.

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The Last Supper in “Jesus Christ Superstar at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Perhaps the most significant power play was Omega Jones as Jesus. Though John Legend is a pop star, that’s not the Jesus I want to see. A true theatre artist who possesses a powerful singing voice is what fits this show and Mr. Jones fills that bill. Whether taking the low road or belting it to the rafters in the appropriate setting of Tower Grove Abbey, he delivers in every respect and acts the hell (can I say that in an Abbey?) out of the role. Following closely in his footsteps is Stray Dog’s Judas Iscariot, Phil Leveling. His role may be the most demanding across the board vocally and he just gets stronger as the night goes on.

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Omega Jones as Jesus, Heather Matthews as Mary and Phil Leveling as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Add to that the beautiful and golden voiced Heather Matthews as Mary Magdalene (who is also a superb actress) and you’ve got the trifecta at the top of this show that carries it through with a powerful story told in the most contemporary of manner. It doesn’t hurt to have a great supporting cast and excellent ensemble behind you and these people really throw themselves into this show. John Hey is a properly menacing Caiaphas  as he puts forth his best effort to destroy this King of the Jews before he gains too much popularity. As his major domo, Mike Hodges shines as well as a perfectly oily sidekick to one of the most powerful men in Rome. Mr. Hodges also bring a tremendous presence to the choreography that is no mean feat with such a large ensemble inside this somewhat limited space.

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Lavonne Byers as Pilate rebukes Omega Jones as Jesus in Stray Dog Theatre’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo: John Lamb

Lavonne Byers never ceases to amaze and, unusually cast in the role of Pontius Pilate, she commands the stage when she’s on. Her breakdown when she can no longer condemn this “miserable puppet” Jesus, is a master class in singing/acting. Gerry Love trips out as the loquacious King Herod as he and his crew taunt Jesus. Riley Dunn also weighs in with a great performance as Simon Zealots as does the stunning collapse of Peter brought to us by Kevin Corpuz.

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Gerry Love as Herod in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

As usual, Stray Dog uses the aisles, the stage and even streaming through the pews at one point to utilize the entire space of the Abbey. Like a well oiled machine, the ensemble and principal cast take this popular show and stamp it with their own brand. The results are moving and spectacular.

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Kevin Corpuz as Peter and Omega Jones as Jesus in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Justin Been takes us on a religious and metaphysical journey through the last days of Jesus. He has pumped this entire cast with an enthusiasm that keeps the audience moving and rocking all night long. Music director Jennifer Buchheit also gets the band revved up bringing out the power and drive of the music as well as keeping bassist M. Joshua Ryan busy with that solid undertone in so many numbers. The Josh Smith set design is perfect for the various areas where the story is set and he has even cleverly hidden the band under the row of steps leading to the palace and various other spots. Eileen Engel’s costumes are a wide mix- most appropriate to Director Been’s vision as “a distant future in the Golgotha Territory.”

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Jesus (Omega Jones) greets his followers as Caiaphas (Jon Hey) looks on in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Using one intermission, “Jesus Christ Superstar” still only runs about two hours. When this show comes along, you’ve got to see it. Fortunately you’ll see one of the better interpretations of the Webber and Rice masterpiece at Stray Dog Theatre. A lot of performances are already sold out so give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

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