‘Superstar’ performs at Derby Dinner stage

IUS Horizon


Brett Travis, playing Jesus, Nir Chalamis, playing Judas, and Kendra Payne, playing Mary Magdalene, rehearse a scene from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The show runs until April 3.

The audience arrived at Derby Dinner Playhouse early to enjoy a hearty buffet-style meal before the lights dimmed, signaling the start of the show.

Feb. 24 was the opening night for the production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

This musical depicts the dramatized journey through the last seven days in the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Before the actual production began, a group called “The Footnotes” sang a few well-known songs.

Although their version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” by Henry J. van Dyke didn’t quite have the zing of Lauryn Hill and the cast of “Sister Act 2,” their rendition of “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson had a great arrangement, and the vocals gave me high hopes for the singing that we all were about to hear.

Their soothing voices led into the sound of a helicopter and a man with a Mohawk who jumped on stage. I briefly wondered if the wrong show had been rehearsed.

However, the confusion only lasted a moment, making it clear this musical was a bit more modern in its retelling.

The stage at the playhouse is small. At one point, almost all 23 cast and ensemble members were on it, and there wasn’t much room for anything else.

However, the small cast was incredibly quick. As soon as I figured out who the apostles were, they changed clothes to portray citizens for the next scene.

The actors’ voices were the best part of the entire production.

Brett Travis, who portrayed Jesus, had an incredible voice reminiscent of Roger from “Rent.” Incidentally, his bio included that role.

The dark to Jesus’ light, Judas, was performed by Nir Chalamish, an actor who also showed dramatic vocal range and talent as the betrayer.

His portrayal of being torn between handing over Jesus or not was evident when he sang, “I don’t need your black money; I don’t want your black money,” in the last song before Act I closed.

The stage was brightly-lit red. The fog surrounded him as he fell to his knees and bowed his head forward. Blackout.

After a brief intermission of coffee and delicious desserts, Act II picked up on the night of the Last Supper.

Travis came out wearing white. He was powerful, purposeful and breathtaking. After his arrest, “King Herod’s Song” showed the audience a fun cabaret showgirl number that combined decent dance moves with great vocals.

Two more intense scenes followed, including “Judas’ Death” and “Trial by Pilate.” In the latter, actors used their hands to symbolize the whip that flogged Jesus 39 times.

Finally, the big scene, the one everyone knew was coming, arrived.

While it wasn’t, thank goodness, “The Last Crucifixion,” the nearness of the stage left nothing to the imagination. The pain was palpable. A young lady in the front row began to cry, and her sobs were heard as much as those of the actors were heard.

The choreography of Megan Bliss, who also performed in the ensemble, was challenging, as most of these performers were actors who could dance and not the other way around.

However, the ensemble always stayed on-pitch while their steps moved them on and off the stage, spinning, flipping and twirling.

The story may not be for all, but the acting and the vocals of all were incredible.

It’s not easy taking on the role of Jesus or Judas, but these two men did a superb job, and the surrounding cast filled their roles well.