AURORA – As someone who has watched the 1973 movie version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" dozens of times and had the honor of interviewing Ted Neeley – the actor who portrayed Jesus in the movie – I had high hopes for the Paramount Theatre's version of "Jesus Christ Superstar," first conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1970 as a rock opera concept album.
The musical starts out strong as Mykal Kilgore – a newcomer to the Paramount stage – bounds into audience view as Judas Iscariot in a powerful version of "Heaven On Their Minds."
There are standout performances throughout the production, such as the one given by Lorenzo Rush Jr. – also a newcomer to the Paramount stage – as a brooding Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who is plotting to have Jesus killed. And Avionce Hoyles' take as King Herold is as funny and campy as Joshua Mostel's performance in the same role in the movie version of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Evan Tyrone Martin, previously seen on the Paramount stage as Triton in "The Little Mermaid" and Tom Collins in "Rent," turns in a multi-dimensional role as Jesus of Nazareth. When his followers sing his praises in the song "Hosanna," the look on his face is that he is truly amazed he has had such an impact on them.
But it is during the second act of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that Martin truly owns the part. The emotional burden that he feels is on full display in the song "Gethsemane" as he accepts his outcome.
What is even more remarkable is that Martin stepped into the role of Jesus after Destan Owens – who was originally cast in the role – had to leave the production because of a family emergency. Martin was originally supposed to play Peter in the production.
That Martin was able to turn in such a powerful performance after assuming the role only a few weeks ago is an example of his immense talent. Directing and choreographing the production is Ron Kellum, who has plenty of experience under his belt, having directed more than 20 musicals nationwide as well as choreographing "Iron Man 2." His decision to feature an all-black cast in "Jesus Christ Superstar" was a brilliant move, especially given the immensely talented cast.
The production ends on a glorious note with the cast singing an a cappella version – and gospel-infused version – of "Jesus Christ Superstar," with the crowd at the Paramount happily clapping along.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" will continue through May 28 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website, www.paramountaurora.com.
Eric Schelkopf writes about the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago at http://thetotalscene.blogspot.com. He also is an employee of Shaw Media.