Judas, who laments his beloved mentor has abandoned his ideals, is a sympathetic figure in Jesus Christ Superstar. He worries his message is lost in celebrity; the mob can't separate the man from the myth.
The Romans can, and in director Des McAnuff's incarnation, the story of Jesus (Paul Nolan) and Judas (Josh Young) is streamlined and rendered at warp speed. The bare stage and few props are augmented by a Times Square-like ticker, which counts down the days until Passover.
This production, a zippy revival of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, is at the Neil Simon Theater. Forty years ago, a rock opera was big news on Broadway, and the pop music and camp elements continue to grab the audience's attention.
Herod's taunting of Jesus -- "prove to me that you're divine, change my water into wine" -- by a screamingly over-the-top Bruce Dow, coupled with a decadent temple scene -- men garbed in gold shorts and chains -- is entertaining. Even if it does seem lifted from a Las Vegas show.
But in this take, McAnuff has staged an emotional ménage between Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy). Judas appears as put out by the attention lavished on Mary as he is by the dangers Jesus' popularity poses to his people. Pontius Pilate (a purple-suited Tom Hewitt) isn't happy about any challenge to Caesar's supremacy. He orders a public flogging, difficult to watch, with the slashes signaled by red lights along the electronic ticker.
This is tricky terrain on many levels -- though the cast, most recreating their roles from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production, are terrific. Nolan and Kennedy have lovely voices; Young, a standout, is blessed with a powerful set of pipes. The score is electric and provocative, though it transforms this dramatic story into high-wattage showbiz buzz.