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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Jesus, you’re no Hamilton. Why an updated ‘Superstar’ misses the mark

Aaron LaVigne and Jenna Rubaii in the North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Aaron LaVigne and Jenna Rubaii in the North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
(Matthew Murphy )

Lin-Manuel Miranda has avowed his love for Andrew Lloyd Webber, but who would have drawn a direct line from “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Hamilton”? The New Testament doesn’t rap. But success talks — and can apparently bend time.

The latest revival of this 1971 rock opera about the last days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth has determinedly tried to catch a little hip-hop fire. The Regent’s Park Theatre London production of Lloyd Webber’s 1971 breakthrough show returns to the work’s concept-album origins by treating the musical as a concert performance.

This loud and frenetic North American tour version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which is at the Hollywood Pantages through Sunday, struts across the stage like a rocker in search of an available amphitheater. Hoodies and screeching are in, clear enunciation of lyrics and cogent storytelling are out.

There’s energy but little attention to dramatic detail. The production won the 2017 Olivier Award for best musical revival, but something seems not to have made it past Customs. I left singing the show’s catchy number “What’s the Buzz” with impious sarcasm.

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Unlike the 2012 Broadway revival from Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which I saw at La Jolla Playhouse, the human dimension of the story is lost in a deafening blur. Directed by Timothy Sheader and choreographed by Drew McOnie, the production (touted as the 50th-anniversary tour) prizes hipster flow over feeling.

Aaron LaVigne, who plays Jesus, is a Ryan Gosling-type rocker with a man bun. Stylishly lanky, he suffers fashionably and sings erratically. He can wield a hand mic with the studied cool of Adam Levine, but his voice can’t transcend its limitations. The spirit is willing but the notes are weak.

James Delisco Beeks’ Judas has the assured vocal power of a Luther Vandross, but his hyperactive motion would be better suited to an aerobics video. Jenna Rubaii’s Mary Magdalene powerfully enchants when she performs “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” but the context of the song is lost in a show that never allows narrative emotion to build.

The band, ready to sweep us off our feet, is perched on Tom Scutt’s standard rock-musical scaffold set. But the kinetic sound and fury don’t signify. When Paul Louis Lessard’s Herod makes an entrance in a gold cloak that Elton John would die for, the show’s pulse rises but to no meaningful effect.

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Bizarrely, when Jesus is lashed, bursts of glitter are sprayed. Is this meant to be a disco Passion? “Jesus Christ Superstar” may now move like “Hamilton,” but the production needs a savior to make sense of the greatest story that here goes untold.

'Jesus Christ Superstar'
Where: Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday

Tickets: $39 and up

Info: (800) 982-2787, HollywoodPantages.com or Ticketmaster.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

You always can find our latest theater news and reviews at latimes.com/theater.
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