On Stage

On Stage

 

Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s breakout rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, as reimagined by Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, is a modern day parable about the media’s consumption of celebrity and our connection to and disconnection from the spiritual, is a visionary but uneven production. The show, originally produced as a record, has become a springtime chestnut for community theater groups. Director Dean Johnson’s vision is best realized in the costuming of his diverse cast; and even where the edges fray a little, a welcome freshness surges.

“Heaven on their Minds,” which opens the show, certainly feels different when the ensemble sings while busy with smartphones, tablets and video cameras. The zealots’ confrontations with the Pharisees bristle, given Caiaphas’ distinctly “modern Arab” look. A Roman guard dressed as a militarized police officer (complete with S.W.A.T. emblem) and a Mary Magdalene with brightly colored hair and rave bracelets provide a visible, visceral connection to the modern in a show often presented in its original 1970s hippie motif.

At CSP, Nick Newkirk is an affable, low-key Jesus. He is easy to listen to, and in his finest moments is a believably reluctant messiah grappling with his slipping control of his believers and his own life. His moments with Judas (Jeff Berg) are riveting, but both men struggle occasionally with the heavy vocal demands of their roles, especially the falsettos. Berg gives Judas a refreshing humanity, keying on the most hated man in history’s desire to help his friend by turning him in, and falling victim to powers beyond himself. Dawn Notagiacomo is an edgy, alt-pop Mary Magdalene with a light, airy voice. Her forlorn “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” late in the first act is her best moment.

It is the strong supporting cast here that is most impressive, though. Michael G. Chandler’s Caiaphas is a menacing, baritone presence. Ezra Eells gives Annas a unique and refreshing take, turning a sometimes throwaway character into one that draws the eye and ear. But it is John Dantona’s Pontius Pilate who steals this show with a forceful, conflicted and deep performance. Though present in only two scenes, he is felt throughout, and it is no coincidence that the night’s most powerful moments are centered on his resonant vocals.

Dean Johnson’s vision of this 21st century rock star resolves into perfect focus during “Trial by Pilate” and “Superstar” as the ensemble boils over and Pilate counts off 39 lashes with increasing intensity. The scene is electric, and Jeff Berg’s rendition of “Superstar,” which follows, is beautifully (if sparsely) staged with sparkling sequins and a disco beat in front of an anguishing, dying Jesus.

Had the cast shown the same energy and intensity during the rest of the performance, coupled with some deeper art direction and set design, this Jesus Christ Superstar would be one for the books. As it stands, Camarillo Skyway Playhouse presents an enjoyable, watchable update on a classic rock musical. 


Jesus Christ Superstar, through Nov. 9. Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. For more information, call 388-5716.

 

On Stage

On Stage

 

You might notice from the signs littering your local street corners that there’s an election coming up, again. Or maybe you hadn’t thought about it. Well, don’t feel bad. Polls say most people don’t pay enough attention to elections.
And that’s just what President Charles Smith is hoping for.

Oxnard’s Elite Theatre Company noticed it was that time of year. Its newest production is both wickedly funny and perfectly timed, David Mamet’s 2007 comedy November.

That’s right, David Mamet. Actual living, breathing, swearing at all the right moments Mamet. And that means not only a pace of language that, 40 years after his breakthrough, is still filled with economy and swagger, but which has that “Mamet Moment”— an instant of betrayal that loosens the thread holding a small society together and throws it into chaos.

On the eve of the election, President Charles Smith (the ever lovable local theater veteran Ron Rezac) has been told the election is unwinnable. The numbers say it isn’t going to happen. His chief of staff, Archer (the very Karl Rovian David Colville), says it’s not going to happen. Even his wife wants to know if she can keep the couch as a memento. (Hey, she re-covered it; why not?)

The president has a different memento on his mind: a presidential library. The good news is, there’s a fund. The bad news: it only has $4,000.

But with great power comes great opportunity. In Smith’s case, that opportunity comes in the form of the annual presidential pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey. Engineered by a representative from the Turkey Industry of America (John Eslick), the nation’s annual exercise in whimsy is an afterthought. But now Smith’s having another thought. And it all involves money, a lot of it.

As we watch these three mill around the oval office spinning their separate versions of the American dream, costumer Beth Glasner has wisely (and hilariously) dressed them in matching suits, distinguished by their ties. Each man is in the same boat pitching his version of the American dream, yet each is rowing in a separate direction. At this, Smith ponders his dilemma.

“There are things that we did in our ignorance,” he says of our nation, “like slavery and disco.” This insight gives him an idea: Unless the turkey association forks over $200 million in cash, he’ll pardon every turkey in America. What’s more, he’ll tell the whole nation that the annual Thanksgiving dinner is an abomination of our culture. Seeing the carpet bombing that’s coming its way the industry agrees to pony up the money.

What follows is a twist of hilarious quid pro quo. Smith sets his brilliant speechwriter Bernstein (Laura Ring) to the task of delivering a legacy-worthy speech. She delivers with a catch; she wants to be married on live TV by the commander in chief to her lesbian lover.

Archer tells him it’s illegal (which, only seven years ago, it was).

Also, the turkey industry objects to being linked to the ceremony on moral grounds. Smith has to find a way to make Bernstein believe she’s really being married on live TV, get the turkey industry its payday, line his own pockets and win re-election.

Heck, to make it work he might even make everyone think there’s a bird flu pandemic. After all, if everyone stays home from the polls, he could just pocket the money and win the election by default.

That is, if everyone’s too distracted to notice what season has rolled around, again.


November through Nov. 2 at Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria, Oxnard. 483-5118 or www.elitetheatre.org.

 

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UPCOMING COMMUNITY EVENTS

  1. Humanizing the Other: Art by Salomón Huerta

    November 1, 2019 @ 8:00 am - January 3, 2020 @ 8:00 pm
  2. Key Frames: A Celebration of Animation & Production Art

    November 8, 2019 @ 10:00 am - January 9, 2020 @ 4:00 pm
  3. Guest Artist’s Reception

    December 13 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Jazz Collective

    December 13 @ 7:30 pm
  5. Footworks Youth Ballet presents The Nutcracker on Dec. 14-15 at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center

    December 14 - December 15
  6. Humane Society of Ventura County Purrs & Paws Holiday Boutique & Marketplace

    December 14 @ 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
  7. 54th Annual Holiday Parade of Lights

    December 14 @ 12:00 pm - 8:00 pm
  8. Book Signing

    December 15 @ 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm
  9. Bird Museum Holiday Hours

    December 20 @ 2:00 pm - 4:30 pm
  10. Rev. Karen’s Mid-Month Devotional Retreat: The Greatest Gift You Can Give!

    December 22 @ 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

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