Cherone’s Jesus raises ‘Superstar’ spirit Globe 1994

The Boston Globe, April 4, 1994

Cherone’s Jesus raises ‘Superstar’ spirit


Produced by T Max and Eleanor Ramsay, directed by Mary Feuer, musical direction by Stephen Silbert. Starring Gary Cherone, Doug Thoms and Jodi Sussman. At: The Middle East Downstairs, Saturday afternoon. Repeats Arpil 6, 7, 10 and 11. In Providence at the Living Room April 13.

By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff

This Easter, there almost wasn’t a “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Middle East. If it weren’t for the enthusiasm of Extreme singer Gary Cherone – the new guy who plays the title role, the closest thing to a rock superstar this local production has yet seen, and the first straight, white male, bare-chested-by-crucifixion-time Jesus – this might have been a dark Easter. And since it’s probably the nearest many rockers get to a religious experience, well, hey, . . .

“We were talking about taking a year off,” said associate producer and apostle/ensemble player Eleanor Ramsay Saturday afternoon between acts of the sold-out performance. “But then Gary, who saw the show last year, called up and wanted to do it. And we said, ‘Wait, we’d be nuts not to do this.’ “

“He turned the tide around,” added Bill (Pontius Pilate) Goffrier, who admitted he probably would have passed if Cherone hadn’t stepped in.

“We’re all more confident, more intense,” said Doug (Judas Iscariot) Thoms. “Gary’s awesome, and he’s an incredible team player. He knows this material cold. More than just being a rock star, he brings a real dignity and grace to it.”

Indeed, this year’s “Superstar” – less campy than earlier conceptions – is the best yet; most of the rest of the show’s run is sold out. Cherone – who has the lean, artist’s-rendition-of-Christ body, the long flowing hair and the scruffy beard – is perfect. He is serene, angry, tortured, perplexed – all in the right proportions. He also has the arena-rock pipes, similar to those of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, who sang on the original album. Moreover, Cherone knows his way around a stage. And the spirituality that winds its way through Extreme can be found here in Cherone’s acting and singing. Might as well say it: This was the role Cherone was born to play.

T Max, publisher of the Boston fanzine The Noise, began staging “Superstar” four years ago with an assemblage of various Boston rock notables. The idea was to put on a version of the hoary Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera and cut it with a knowing, humorous punk-rock edge. Face it, the “Superstar” score is not without its schlock-rock components. Rock fans long ago learned what the Broadway crowd learned with “Evita” and “Cats”: Webber writes insanely catchy melodies but his metier is melodrama, his bailiwick is bombast and his oeuvre is overkill. The downside of going to any “Superstar” production is that the songs will run around your brain for weeks afterward.

Cherone got the glory during Saturday’s two-hour performance, but Thoms got to romp and stomp and ultimately hang and come back from the grave for yet one more song. (This, by the way, is one of the things that upset the traditionalists back in the early ’70s, that Judas was a halfway likable antihero; that and the fact that the opera ends with Christ’s death and omits a resurrection.) Thoms tore through “Damned for All Time” and “Blood Money.” Jodi Sussman, taking her first crack at Mary Magdalene, filled Miss Xanna Don’t’s shoes well and put a powerful spin on “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” The apostles fawned, got drunk and behaved like sycophants and boors. Towering Mick (Caiaphas) Maldonado and naval-suited Bill (Pilate) Goffrier each shone as bad guys: Maldonado had the best look of disdain and Goffrier had the best leer. Great exasperated Caiaphas line: “How do you deal with a man who is bigger than John was when John did his baptism thing?” Pat McGrath played the evil, beer-swilling clown Herod replete with fake urine stains on his pj’s. The money-changers in the temple passed out Ten Plagues Insurance Co. policies to audience members. Policeman Mikey Dee once again sported an LAPD shirt as he beat Jesus, who earlier had a “Flog Me” sign attached to his shirt.

OK, there was black humor. But there was lump-in-the-throat drama, too. At the end, Cherone struck a chilling pose on the cross; the disciples sat silently, mournfully, and, yes, the pain and loss spread through the hushed room.

The choreography and direction were sharp; the band, the Buzz, was top-flight; the only flaw was some dim lighting.

Since this is a ’70s-rooted production, we might as well pull another ’70s line out of the closet: As the Doobie Brothers might have it, this Jesus was just alright with me.