Ithica Tell

Superstar, taking on shadows

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1970s concept musical was a show for its times. Michael Streeter's "Superstar" revival at Post5 is a show for our times, too.

Jesus of Nazareth, the historical man and radical upstart, probably had no plans to become famous, and given what we know, fame would’ve cramped his style. But a superstar he became, and for the first time in many years, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar is being produced on a professional Portland stage with Michael Streeter’s current version at Post5.

I spoke with Streeter on the phone, and he said he’d coveted his older brother’s vinyl copy of Jesus Christ Superstar when he was a kid. Nobody would produce the musical, so it was first a hit in 1970 as a concept album in the United States. Lloyd Webber noted that, by being limited to that format, he and Rice cut all the extras and fat from the normal progression of a stage musical. Eventually it became a staple onstage, too, running for more than 700 performances on Broadway beginning in 1971. The productions Streeter has seen over the years resembled a church Passion Play, and with his, he wanted to get to the heart of the matter, much as the original album did for the composers.

Ernie Lijoi as Jesus and Ithica Tell as Judas. Photo: Greg Parkinson

Ernie Lijoi as Jesus and Ithica Tell as Judas. Photo: Greg Parkinson

Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical giant and has rocking good tunes. The lyrics are clever, and the songs easy enough to sing along to: the seeds of what would become a powerhouse career for Weber and Rice are evident.

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Post5’s ‘Othello’: less is more

A stark and delicate dance of power gets stripped down to its basics in Post5's "Shakesqueer" telling of the tale

Any relationship involves a delicate dance of power. We negotiate and bargain the trivial to keep the little sparks alive. In love, we try to set aside little irritations for the sake of the oneness. If we’re in for the long haul, most of the everyday is both beautiful and eclipsed by our understanding of whom we care for.

And in this dance, Post5 has stripped bare Shakespeare’s Othello and rearranged the steps.

In director Caitlin Fisher-Draeger’s production the Other is not the Moor, as in the traditional interpretation of Othello. Rather, the have-nots are the Other: the inexplicable Iago, whose passions begin and end in fury; Cassio, who fights for love and liege; and in the end, the motives that lie behind Othello and Desdemona’s desire for each other is the real alienation.

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tell and Tidd: passion and betrayal. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Post5 has done some Shakesqueering: most of the roles are played by women, the one exception being Rodrigo, acted by Sean Doran, who shifts the weight of his walking leg while the other clumps in a cast. He has no affection for Desdemona, and the implied ulterior motives to help Iago: he is half a man, his impotence in stark contrast to the band of Amazons who make the stage.

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Bleak and bristling: Post5’s ‘Lear’

Led by Tobias Andersen's perfectly balanced imbalanced king, a strong cast gets the new-look company's newest season off to a flying start

Over the last 55 years, King Lear has been staged more times than in the first 355 years after it was written. Much of the interest in Lear was revived by Peter Brooks’s 1971 film adaptation, which took a haunting look into politics, conflict, rivalry, and homelessness, and revealed an almost unbearable wasteland of emotion in the face of growing old. Before this landmark black-and-white film, Lear was, for the most part, too bleak for audiences in its original form. The ending was altered after Shakespeare’s death with a centuries-early Hollywood happy ending. No more of that.

Like the play itself, Post5 has been changing, but it still begins its new season with the Bard – and with a Lear to remember.

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Post5 Theatre photo

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tobias Andersen delivers his King Lear with a perfect balance of anger, regret, confusion, delirium, and torment. It takes stamina to bring this alive on stage. Andersen works into the monumental role with an even pacing that swings to a crescendo at the most important and famous of scenes, along with a few that are the focus of Post5’s production. He begins as an upright, square-shouldered regent. In the opening scene, when he asks his daughters who loves him the most, Andersen is severe with his demands. He has no grasp on the dominoes that begin to fall rapidly out of place. Andersen plays Lear as the real-life Celtic pagan king would have looked at the world, a victim of the fickle gods and circumstance. His descent into madness is less anxiety-provoking about how it will happen, and more the experience of watching a superb veteran actor unweave the tapestry of Lear’s mind.

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