BLT’s all-female ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ examines Jesus as a human being

Friday, Feb. 15 is opening day

By Tim Takechi

Even in 2013, Jesus of Nazareth remains one of history’s most divisive figures. Is he a savior, or just a person from history? But what can get lost in the shuffle of this debate is this: Jesus was also a human being.

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s controversial 1971 rock musical about Jesus’ complicated relationships with the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, the Establishment and ultimately with himself, comes to life with an all-female cast at Burien Little Theatre.

Most should be familiar with the basics of Jesus’ final weeks on Earth. But “Jesus Christ Superstar” attempts to show Jesus as a man (though played by a woman) and how his dealings with his friends and enemies shaped how we view him today.

Jesus (Sophia Federighi) is the leader of the Apostles (Anna Richardson, Jennifer O’Brien, Mindy Lee Whitfield, Rachel Jones, Mary Hould, Emily Beckley, Kris Hambrick, Eloisa Cardona and Nicole Lockett) who go around performing miracles, healing the sick, preaching messages of peace and drawing huge crowds of devoted followers.

This following makes Caiaphas (Shaina Ward Siegel), Annas (Cherilynn Brooks) and other Jewish high priests suspicious of this Messianic figure. Meanwhile, Jesus is under heavy emotional burdens as he is faced with Simon the Zealot (Alicia Mendez), who demands Jesus lead an armed rebellion against Rome (Kaylie Rainer, Cara Hazzard and Jana Gueck play guards/ensemble roles) and Mary Magdalene (Ashley Coates), with whom he shares a long and complicated friendship.

All this happens as Judas Iscariot (Michelle Flowers), whose very name evokes words such as “traitor” and “betrayal” in our popular lexicon, considers betraying Jesus to the priestly Establishment in order to save him from himself, believing Jesus’ fame is distracting from their mission to serve the sick, poor and other outcasts.

The rest, as they say, is history. Jesus is eventually betrayed, arrested by Pontius Pilate (Heather Ward) and tried by Herod (Ashley Coates again). Somewhere in the mix Peter (Sara Schweid) publicly denies knowing Jesus three times and the Apostles are left questioning their allegiance to their notorious leader.

Under the direction of Steve Cooper, “Jesus Christ Superstar” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where social structures have broken down and the people are in a desperate need of a Savior. The music direction by Julie Parsons and Heather MacLaughlin Garbes is energetic and fast paced, adding to the urgency of the story.

As Jesus, Sophia Federighi gives us a man who clearly understands the weight of his importance and struggles to deal with it. Michelle Flowers’ portrayal of Judas is hard-edged and potent. But Ashley Coates as Mary Magdalene gives an especially strong performance, showing us a woman who loves this man in ways she cannot possibly comprehend. Her heartfelt rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is one of the highlights of the show.

Featuring other well-known songs such as “Superstar” and “Pilate and Christ,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” challenges us to look at this famous person from religion and history from a different perspective: not as a Messiah or a mere figure from textbooks, but as a complex and misunderstood man whose ultimate importance often makes us forget that he was just that--a man.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” performs at Burien Little Theatre from Feb. 15 through March 24, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 through $20, with a number of discounts available. Tickets are 2-for-1 for Date Night on Saturday, Feb. 16 and just $7 on Seven Buck Sunday on Sunday, Feb. 17.

For tickets or more information, visit www.burienlittletheatre.org or call the ticket office at 206-242-5180. The show is appropriate for ages 12 and up.

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