Sunday, August 07, 2005

REV: Jesus Christ Superstar at Turner BBT

Review, Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Jonah Priour and Arlene Leonhardt
Turner Blackbox Theatre, Ingram, Texas, 6 August 2005
The Superstars of a Small Town Major Production

I had hoped to be blogging about this in time for others to take a cue and see it themselves. I thought it had another week to run. But it doesn't, it's over, and i'm most fortunate to have stumbled into the last performance without a reservation.

Fortunate, because this is just another in a long string of local productions by a superbly talented group of young actors and singers. This is largely the crew that took Ingram to the UIL One-Act-Plat Regionals last spring with The Crucible.

The big difference? Well, the addition of some new faces with fine voices and acting chops, and this one was virtually kid-produced. By that, i mean it was the particular child of Jonah Priour.

I've been locked away for the summer, but i could bet that, knowing Jonah, and his May enthusiasm for the project, that it all came together in such fantastic proportions because of his lack of sleep and perfectionism.

Not that this isn't an entire cast/crew effort, nor that the adults in the scenario -- the beloved Arlene Leonhardt, Tony Young, Gary and Carol Priour, Dave Hofer, and perhaps another dozen folks lending a hand -- but that it took a driving force and i have a gut feeling it was Jonah.

So what we start with is a rather exceptional set in a functional, but tight blackbox theatre. The use of several upper levels, staircases, and inner sancta turned tombish was so effective as to render set changes nearly superfluous, and the sometimes jarring changes of scenes endemic to this piece became so seamless as to make me hyperalert for the next entrance, afraid i might miss some nuance.

The lighting and sound were also perfectly subtle, as i would expect from the expert hands of Gary and Tony. The gauging of recorded sound cues to match not only individual performers, but individual solos and harmonies in the songs was a much appreciated detail not often seen in such a complex piece.

And then the sum of the parts. While no one would expect a town as small as Ingram (with a little help from Hunt and Kerrville even) to produce the youth talent (the quality and the quantity) to produce a full-length musical on the par of JCS we already know it's there from having been stunned at the productions of Grease and Les Miserables this very crew produced.

Jonah, of course, was Jesus. And he was. He has the look for sure, but he also has the ability to play the wide arc from healing the lame to dying by crucifixion (which, by the way, was so realistic as to draw tears from much of the audience); and in the same arc remaining true to a character that must differ in every attendant's mind. I find it hard to not pay tribute to his efforts here, from behind the scenes, to directing his peers, to pulling off a most difficult role. Now, it's off to Harvard.

I guess i'll always have a soft spot for this group. The guys, almost all of whom are off to college, played the major roles -- and make no mistake, the male roles predominate here. Especially strong were John Ferguson as the schizophrenic Pontius Pilate, Aaron Hutto glowing and denying as Peter, Ryan King's deeply mellow voice soaring as Simon, and Chris Wilson as a manic Elvisy Herod. Shane Conley, Anthony Goodman, Paul Pagel, Jeff Widener and Jack McCalla excellently round out the cast of the always-been-theres. Add in Kevin Chipman and Wes Isenhower, who are usually behind-the-scenes guys, and i think you have nearly the entire ITM graduationg classes of the last couple of years.

It was nice to see Josh Widener back on stage again, and he pulled off some difficult songs with great dignity. And Matthew Willis is always reliably wonderful, and it was good to have him back on stage with old friends.

New for me was Corey Weaver who not only sang the most difficult couple of songs in the play as Judas Iscariot, but was exceptional in the showstopper title tune. And also J.J. Storey who also has a dynamite voice and was most effective as Caiaphas.

And, considering that almost all of the area's young male talent is leaving town, it was nice to see some youngsters coming up. Alan Zaizar has been around a couple of years but he's really growing into a fine actor -- his James II had some really nice moments. John Dean Domingue was superbly animated in all his scenes and hopefully will be stepping into the Ingram program soon. And i'm looking forward to seeing more of Jordan, the latest in a long line of acting Wideners.

For the women, the usual crew of outstanding voices was on display. Lauren Brown and Lauren Hensley were just perfect for the evening, we really could expect no less. The various chorus girls nailed their roles as well, and in the scene with Chris Wilson as Herod, i slipped into Soul Train for a few moments. So thanks to Morgan Frederick, Cassie Coronado, Mindy Cox, Mari Aleman, Camille Priour, and Allyson Widener.

And of course, there's Whitney Wilson. This young lady, who's not leaving town yet, just continues to blow me away everytime she steps on stage. In Les Miserables she tore the place up, but here is where she really shines, with belted melodic tunes that seem specially written for her. There were audible gasps in the room after she nailed the first couplet of I Don't Know How to Love Him and a great collective sigh when she finished. It took a moment of recovery before we remembered to applaud the moment was so sublime.

I also was completely taken in by the reunited duet between her and Hutto, with some excellent harmony work by the chorus on Could We Start Again, Please? I can't wait to hear what she does next.

And, one more thing, I expect this was a Jonah/Arlene collaboration, but the casting was pitch-perfect. And as can always be expected with any show that Carol Priour's involved with, the costumes were not only perfect, but elegant.

So congratulations to everyone on a fine, fine performance, and best of luck in the real world.

(It occurs to me that, as always, i've probably missed saying something, or singling someone out that i should have, so i reserve the right to come back and add to this as necessary to cover everything.)

Here's some other reviews:

The Kerrville Daily Times

The Corral


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