Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway

In the past year I've become a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. I don't know why I avoided it for so long but I watched the movie last March and instantly fell in love with the songs and the story. I bought the soundtrack (original concept rock opera) and saw two community theater productions of the show in Ohio last spring. When I found out the show was coming back to Broadway this spring it was only a matter of time before I bought tickets for it.

The short review: we loved every minute of it. The band is tight, with plenty of winds and brass to balance the heavy guitars and drums. The set design is industrial and functional, with moving staircases and walkways that give the actors plenty of different places to interact and observe. And the cast is phenomenal. Paul Nolan's Jesus sings like Roger Daltrey with a little less bravado and more resignation. He knows what awaits him, and even as he cries out to God in "Gethsemane," he seems more angry that he doesn't know why it's happening than that it happens at all. We saw Nick Cartell as Judas this evening, and his struggle appears less with the betrayal of Jesus than with the way history will remember him. Tom Hewitt was excellent as a conflicted Pontius Pilate, and I had a hard time picturing him as the same actor I saw in The Rocky Horror Show in 2000. 

My only complaint is that the sound designers need to balance the singers and the band just a little better. I could understand the singers clearly but the band was more than loud enough. They did warn us in the pre-show announcements that it would be a loud production. But that's deducting a tenth of a point from what is otherwise a fantastic production. I wish I could see it again. It's that good.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Beethoven and Stravinsky with David Zinman and the Philharmonic

We were fortunate to have tickets to the opening weekend of the New York Philharmonic's "Modern Beethoven" festival. The first series of concerts featured Beethoven's Second and Seventh Symphonies with Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra in between.

The program notes described guest conductor David Zinman's efforts to bring a fresh approach to Beethoven's symphonies, with research into different editions of the scores and consultations with a variety of musicologists and other experts. As a result, the Beethoven symphonies sparkled and excited me in ways I'd never thought possible from works I've heard so many times. A simple emphasis on a harmony or a change in dynamics brought out parts of the works I'd never heard before. And there were a few new additions: an brief oboe cadenza in the first movement of the Seventh and a tweaked French horn line in the third movement, among others. The Second Symphony had a few subtle changes as well. None of them made a major difference in any of the works, but as a whole they made the entire experience more exhilarating. I listened as actively as ever, waiting to see what other tweaks Zinman might have brought to the music. I've seldom been as involved with a performance of an orchestra warhorse like the Seventh. Audiences for the next two weekends are in for a real treat, if this first series of concerts is any indication of what Zinman has in mind.