Biblical meets digital in the spring musical

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UNC sophomore Logan Rains portrayed the title character Jesus Christ in the annual spring musical, alongside a Matrix-themed ensemble. (Photo courtesy of the UNC School of Theatre Arts & Dance Facebook page)

On March 3, UNC’s School of Theatre, Arts and Dance had their closing night of the annual spring musical in the Langworthy Theatre.  

This year, the musical was “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a modern re-enactment of the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life. David Grape, the director of the spring musical, chose an interpretation of the production that led to many highs and lows in the performance.

The first low of the show’s interpretation came from Grape’s inexplicable choice to set the play in a future located in “The Matrix.” While part of the reasoning behind this choice could’ve been to juxtapose the fake digital reality against the reality of Jesus Christ, adding “The Matrix” to a biblically-themed play seemed unconscionable. This is especially because the original play is already a modern adaptation.

To accompany this interpretation, the backdrop of the stage was lit with glowing, green binary code and swirling paintings to simulate the futuristic location. Although creative, the background of projected scenery, designed by Henry Rodriguez, distracted from the performance itself. The costumes designed to reflect “The Matrix” were also distracting. Not only was the majority of the cast clad in mundane, black, cargo-pants, but Caiaphas and the priests carried green, fluorescent staffs.

 

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At the same time, the highs of the show radiated from the student cast. Logan Rains, a sophomore musical theatre major, displayed a magnificent vocal range when he nailed the high-pitched part of Jesus Christ. One of the highlights to Rains’ performance was the during “The Temple” scene where he channeled rage into his vocal performance leading to a succession of powerful, high-pitched notes right on key with the pit band. Michael Travis Risner, a doctoral candidate at UNC, and Theresa Kellar, a senior musical theatre major, both sang and danced wonderfully as Caiaphas and Mary Magdelene. Kellar’s talents shown particularly bright when she performed “Everything’s Alright” and convinced the audience that they were really witnessing Mary Magdelene through beautiful song and dance. Meanwhile, TJ Norton, a senior musical theatre major, played a pompous King Herod that provided much needed comedic relief.

The pinnacle of the performance was the pit band, directed by Nancy Wolfgang. Their music provided an unforgettable experience for the audience with not one mistake. The overture beginning the play seamlessly drew the audience into the familiar musical motifs of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” On top of this, the use of electric guitars fused the futuristic feelings of “The Matrix” with the original themes of the musical.

UNC’s School of Theatre, Arts and Dance will perform “Hot l Baltimore” in the Norton Theatre on March 29-31 and April 1, 4-8, followed by “The Crucible” in the Langworthy Theatre on April 19-22.

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