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Hey JC, Smile at Me

A labor of love. That’s what last night’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar by the Penn State Thespians proved to be. With three freshmen leading the cast, it would be easy to skip out on this show… And that would be a mistake.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a name that almost automatically turns it to gold. However, because Webber’s shows are so well known, doing them justice can be a challenge. Apparently, the Thespians were up for that challenge because they didn’t disappoint.

Freshmen Rob McNeil, Alex Troup, and Annelise Gaus played the characters of Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene, respectively. They didn’t appear as rookies on this night; each sang solos and hit incredible notes.

Much of Jesus Christ Superstar’s appeal is in Webber’s music. It is phenomenal and requires a large amount of talent to successfully replicate. The Thespians’ show had an entire orchestra performing, adding to the “rock concert” feel that McNeil suggested in our interview with him. What added even more to this feeling was an electric guitar, the prominent instrument used in the show. Holding back the urge to dance became increasingly difficult as the smooth guitar riffs hit one after another. It was a head bobbin’ and toe tappin’ kind of show.

Unfortunately, the orchestra’s influence on the show wasn’t always positive. A combination of technical difficulties and a front row seat occasionally made the music too loud, drowning out the sound of the singers. However, the sound technician was able to correct the issue during intermission, and the problem was not nearly as noticeable in the second act.

Credit must be given to the set designers who crafted a complex and functional set. Painted to represent a desert-style building with graffiti that symbolized the show’s edgy and contemporary parts, the set had multiple levels and a built-in area for the cross to be placed during Christ’s crucifixion.

Some of the show’s best moments were songs like Judas’ “Damned for All Time” and the hilarious and glitter-infused “King Herod’s Song.”

Seeing as the story is told from Judas’ perspective, it’s fitting that Troup would steal the show. All of the singers had moments where they shined, but Troup really captured the character of Judas. He also hit a few notes that were through the roof.

The basic story of Jesus’ life is never different, but always striking. The Thespians triumphed with spine chilling vocals and the ability to create both a heart warming and heart breaking atmosphere. The night ended as it should, with a standing ovation.

If musicals aren’t your thing, I dare you to let this one change your mind.

Three more shows will be held. Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at  2 and 7:30 p.m. All shows are in Schwab Auditorium, and tickets can be bought at the door.

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