You do not expect to find a gem of a theater at a cozy ocean resort at the Jersey Shore. But if you are planning a day at the beach, you may want to take in the exuberant production of Jesus Christ Superstar now running at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics from Tim Rice, the work was provocative when it hit the boards nearly 50 years ago: A rock opera about Jesus? A love triangle involving Mary Magdalene, Judas, and Christ?
Director James Alexander Bond comes up with solid talents to play the leads. Owen Beans is a graceful Jesus, energetic and restless in some scenes, languid in others. There is a note of bel canto in his clear tenor as he sings "Poor Jerusalem" and "Gethsemane."
With contrasting agitation, Andrew Foote joins him on stage as Judas Iscariot. In the show's opening song, "Heaven on Their Minds," Judas sounds his alarm. "Listen, Jesus, I don't like what I see. … I remember when this whole thing began. No Talk of God then, we called you a man."
Does Judas want to "strip away the myth from the man," or is he just sore Mary Magdalene gives Jesus all her attentions? Dwan Hayes gets to sing "I Don't Know How to Love Him," but she is equally plaintive in "Could We Start Again Please?," where Mary seems to side with Judas: "I think you've made your point now/ You've even gone a bit too far to get your message home."
While star performers do their part, it is Bond's stagecraft and choreography that keep you involved. The scenes by P&G Designs feature a centerpiece of stairs and platforms that let head priests Caiaphas (Steve Steiner, basso profundo) and Annas (Adrianne Hick) lord over Jesus and his followers. Costumes by Stephanie Luckey make them still more menacing.
Choreographer Michael A. Blackmon makes constant use of some 15 college undergraduates majoring in theater and dance to enliven all scenes, from gatherings of the apostles to frightening mob assemblies. In "Thirty-Nine Lashes," each lashing is different, as these athletic young performers leap and dance around Jesus.
Under music director Nicholas Kaminski the mix of electronic music and ballads in this sung-through musical still holds up. The last week of Jesus is a larger-than-life story, and the Surflight show re-creates the excitement of sharing in a spectacle.