Monday, August 5, 2019

Guest Review: 'Jesus Christ Superstar' Exciting Production at Centenary Stage Company

by Rick Busciglio (

f the youthful cast of Jesus Christ Superstar currently playing at Centenary Stage Company is any example, the future of musical theater is bright indeed. Director Lea Antolini-Lid has created an exciting, high-energy version of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s first musical, the now-iconic rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.

The very talented cast she has assembled are mostly college students who sing and dance at a level far beyond their years. Many could easily transition to the professional stage, particularly the leads. CJ Carter as Jesus, Stephanie Rosario as Mary Magdalene, Ryan Robert Washington as Judas and Kevin Wehrhahn as Pontius Pilate. Also impressive are Jonathan Drayton as Caiaphas, Allan Marchioni as Annas, Cody Jackson as Peter, Jesse Bush as Simon, Na’Jee Tariq as King Harold and a talented 25 member Ensemble who sing and dance with remarkable enthusiasm. Dare we say they sing like angels (he didn’t really say that?).

The story, presented with little spoken dialogue, centers on the last days of Christ as largely seen through the eyes of Judas, who opposes the direction Jesus is taking his followers. The staging of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion are particularly effective.

The musical highlights include the now pop standard “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” beautifully sung by Stephanie Rosario (Mary Magdalene, left). “Pilate’s Dream” delivered nicely by Kevin Wehrhahn (marvelous voice), Na’Jee Tariq (King Herold) has fun with “Herod’s Song”, CJ Carter and the ensemble with “What’s the Buzz,” and the rousing, “Superstar” with Ryan Robert Washington.

This is the second production of Centenary Stage Company’s second annual Summer Musical Theatre Series.

The cast is led by CJ Carter (Somerset, NJ) as Jesus Christ and Ryan Washington (Hackettstown, NJ) as Judas Iscariot. Carter’s recent credits include Newsies (Jack Kelly), Hunchback of Notre Dame (Quasimodo), Grease (Danny), and Avenue Q (Princeton). Washington is a rising senior in Centenary University’s Theatre Department. A theatre arts major with a concentration in performance, Washington’s recent credits include Avenue Q (Brian), She Kills Monsters (Chuck), Hair (Tribe), A Year with Frog and Toad (Toad), Carrie (Tommy Ross) and The Cradle Will Rock (Editor Daily). The principle cast also features Stephanie Rosario (Newark, NJ) as Mary Magdalene, Kevin Wehrhahn (Long Valley, NJ) as Pontius Pilate, Jonathan Drayton (Bayonne, NJ) as Caiaphas, Allen Marchioni (Fair Lawn, NJ) as Annas, Cody Jackson (Washington, NJ) as Peter, Jesse Bush (Randolph, NJ) as Simon Zealotes and Na’Jee Tariq (Newark, NJ) as King Herod. (Above: Ryan Washington and C J Carter center)

Rounding out the cast is Tyler Moscaritola (Nutley, NJ), Andrew Wire (Branchville, NJ), Lisa Kosak (New Providence, NJ), AJ Lewis (Oxford, NJ), Rach Phelan (Edison, NJ), Megan Schmiedhauser (Stanhope, NJ), Becca Capano (Columbia, NJ), Brianna Morris (Parsipanny, NJ), Sean C. Fowley (Blairstown, NJ), Cina Gabel (Sussex, NJ), Megan McGill (Pompton Lakes, NJ), Victoria Rae Pulido (Hackettstown, NJ), Lauren Santarelli (Hackettstown, NJ), Sarah Shea Farber (High Bridge, NJ), Jessica Defort (Washington, NJ), Paige Marian (East Hanover, NJ), Izac D. Cruz (Budd Lake, NJ), Sydney Fucito (Newton, NJ), Jibril Scott (Sufflok, VA), Emily Bennet (NYC, NY), Shelly Goldstein (Randolph, NJ), Fleur Kuhta (Warwick, NY) and Nick Bettens (Stanhope, NJ), Ali Rose Harton (Cartersville, GA) and Jake Jackson (Washington, NJ).

The production is directed by Lea Antolini–Lid, Greg Paradis is the music director. He comes to Jesus Christ Superstar after MD’ing the other iconic rock musical Hair last year. Choreography by Nijawwon Matthews with Lea Antolini-Lid and Jillian Petrie, Stage manager James Russo, Producer Carl Wallnau, Costumes Helen Giannandrea, and Lighting Ethan Newman.

The play is two hours including one intermission. The performers are miked.

Specific remaining performance dates are Thursdays, August 8 at 7:30 pm; Friday, August 9 at 8:00 pm; Saturday, August 10 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, August 11 at 2:00 pm. Friday evening and Sunday afternoon tickets are $25.50 for adults and $18.00 for children under 12/students, Saturday evening tickets are $30.00 for adults and $18.00 for children under 12/students, Thursday evening tickets are $25.50 for all seats with a Buy One / Get One Rush Ticket Special. To redeem the Thursday evening BOGO offer tickets must be purchased in person at the Centenary Stage Company box office beginning at 5:30 pm on the evening of the performance. BOGO offer is not available for advance ticket sales.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit or call the Centenary Stage Company box office at (908) 979 – 0900. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 1 – 5 pm and two hours prior to every performance. The box office is located in the Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ on the campus of Centenary University.

Background: The musical opened on Broadway on 12 October 1971, The show closed June 1973 after 711 performances. The production received mixed reviews. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Score, but won none. Lloyd Webber won a Drama Desk Award as "Most Promising Composer.”

The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place." Some Christians considered such comments to be blasphemous, the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive. The musical's lack of allusion to the resurrection of Jesus has resulted in criticism similar to that of fellow musical Godspell, which also did not clearly depict the resurrection.
At the same time, some Jews claimed that it bolstered the anti-semitic belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion.