Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Just Off Broadway

By Kara Bauer

DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.

(l-r) Jim Gerhardt as Judas and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Jesus Christ Superstar, a story that is familiar to some, while at the same time refreshing and new for a younger generation continues to tell the story about Christ’s final days before his death and resurrection. It’s message about the plight of the poor and underprivileged resonates just as strongly as it did when it first premiered on Broadway in 1971. Just Off Broadway’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical, Directed by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy and Patrick Jay Golden, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle, and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, comes alive on the Baltimore stage. Despite the small space and minimalistic set design, this show packs a punch for audiences of all ages. What it lacks in appearance, it certainly more than makes up for it with its talented cast of performers. This show truly had all the components of a strong performance: Strong vocals, imaginative choreography, and powerful acting.

As soon as the lights come up, the audience is very aware of the urgency that Caiaphas mentions when speaking about the dangers that Jesus poses to their Roman traditions and ideals. Five men emerge in darkness with masks and riot gear. The familiar chord progression reverberates in the ears of the audience as a fight begins over Jesus’ presence in Rome. Audience members get to meet Judas, played by Jim Gerhardt, for the first time in this scene. As an audience member, hearing Judas sing the first vocals of the song really drew me in. Gerhardt is extremely talented; his voice and acting are mutually impeccable. On the other side of the stage, we see Jesus, played by Luis “Matty” Montes, emerge from the crowd of believers. An overwhelming sense of foreboding fills the air of the theatre– The harmonizing voices, the presence of Caiaphas and the other High Priests, along with truly haunting accompaniment by Patty DeLisle and the orchestra sets the tone for the entire show in the first few moments.

Jennifer Lutz as Mary Magdalene and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout the show, the audience has the chance to see many different kinds of choreography under the direction of Katie Gerstmyer. I applaud Gerstmyer in her foresight and structure of the choreography– it was structured enough to look uniform but freestyle enough that each ensemble member was able to create their own character choices throughout the production. For instance, in the beginning of the show, the audience can clearly see that the cast is filled with strong dancers. Even those who are not the most skilled still had space to create a character that perfectly accompanied their artistic dance choices.

Soon enough, the audience gets to meet the highlight of the show, Mary Magdalene, played by Jennifer Lutz. Lutz’s voice provides a strong and clear contrast to her male counterparts. She carries the role with poise, gusto, and so much dedication. She is constantly engaged in her craft– no matter what is happening on stage she remains engaged and dedicated to the scene. It was refreshing to see such vibrant chemistry on stage between Jesus and Mary– you can clearly tell that both actors have put in the time to create dynamic and powerful relationships with each other.

The tones of Mary’s voice fade away and are replaced by the deep, smoky tones of Christ Thomas’ interpretation of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Thomas is a truly terrifying entity on stage with his band of not-so-merry men. The entire group of High Priests (Dave Gerstmyer, Nick Ruth, Randall Noppinger, and Lee Knox) take their role seriously which only adds to the ominous mood set by music.

Josh Leach as Simon with Ensemble in the back. Credit. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

During the song “Hosanna”, the ensemble proves its true ability as vocalists. The harmonies that they create together on stage are extremely clear and crisp in their execution. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the strange lighting choice during the second half of that song that I was not able to focus on the music or story. I felt that this lighting choice was very out of place– the song “Hosanna” is all about Christ being willing to fight and die for his followers. Meanwhile an upbeat style lighting was occurring above the stage; the shifting blue-yellow floral lighting was too upbeat, and took me out of the scene.

A refreshing voice came from Simon, played by Josh Leach, during “Simon Zealots / Poor Jerusalem” I was forced to stop taking notes just so that I could soak up Leach’s soulful voice. His spellbinding serenade to the audience combined with the vivacious music provides a clear contrast to Jesus’ foretelling of events in the second half of the song. Being only a Senior in Mt. Hebron High School, he still has a lot of time to perfect his vocal craft. I have no doubt that this young man will develop into a performer that is even more confident, capable and talented than he is now.

Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout each interaction and glance, the audience witnesses the expansion of the void which continues to widen between Jesus and Judas. Both actors add to this conflict in their own unique way, whether it be stolen glances, interactions with other characters or face to face moments– it is obvious that both Gerhardt and Montes are dedicated to the storytelling that they began.

As the show continues on, we meet Pontius Pilate, portrayed by Mike Zellhofer. He emerges from the back of the theatre and walks forward to Jesus as he contemplates his dream that foretells his interaction with a Galilean. Zellhofer has a very unique voice; both soft and contemplative, while at the same time possessing a fervor that touches the audience in an emotional way.

Jim Gerhardt as Judas. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The temple scene was as fitting as it was haunting, the lighting enhanced Jesus’s reaction to the tide of humanity that even he seemed powerless to redeem. While the efforts made by the cast were very convincing in this scene, I was distracted by some cast-members who interacted with stage props in a less convincing way, such as when several actors hid underneath the stairs leading up to the stage. Despite this, the audience can still feel how overwhelmed Christ is when the sick come to visit the temple, and his reaction is both moving and palpable.

There is a sense of urgency when Mary dives to catch Jesus–she sings her familiar voice as the sick clear the stage. Lutz reaches the climax of her song with gusto, confidence and poise. She reaches notes with strength–truly serenading the audience. Meanwhile, Judas’s inner conflict is displayed clearly when he goes to the high priests. Here the lighting is both effective and immersive, as is the feeling of when Judas betrays Christ–here again his emotions are palpable. His sadness is a weight that is felt clearly by the audience, and is also enhanced by the eerie yet harmonious undertones of the ensemble’s “good old Judas” as the lights dim for intermission.

Mike Zellhofer as Pilate. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Overall the cast is enthusiastic, and while the costuming is simple it fits the punk and rockstar vibe that characterizes the show and distinguishes it from other adaptations. The talented vocal cast lends its hand in helping to bring the audience back in following the admission by delivering a beautiful chorus that tells the story of a people who drown their sorrows and grief in gentle pools of wine.

Judas and Jesus in this scene go back and forth, vocally competing, the clash of their worldviews acting out in person Jesus begins to doubt himself in his conversation with his Father. He is clearly troubled, and brings Jesus self-doubt and hate to life. It is here that Montes really displays his vocal range to the audience, and during this troubling monologue.

Following the arrest of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, King Herod, played by Atticus Emerson, provides a welcome comic relief to the conflict at hand. His performance is spirited, humorous, and lively, fitting the style and poise of the original piece. Following Herod’s performance, “Could we start again, please?” is by far the most beautifully simplistic and minimalistic piece in the second act. The harmony of Mary and Peter (played by Jeff Baker) was thoughtfully coordinated and stunningly done.

Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

For those who know the story, we know and feel the weight of Judas’s death. I was brought to tears as Judas asks, “Does he love me too?” Judas knows what he must do, stating “My mind is in darkness now” as the music swells as the ensemble members in black lead him away, towards suicide.

The flogging of Jesus was so creative–this is a very controversial to address, let alone depict–yet Katie Gerstmyer–covered in blood, “lashes” Jesus’s back, while dancing to symbolize the whipping–truly the most intuitive way to show the 39 lashes.

Judas comes back adorned in white with angels in tow, asking “Jesus Christ, who are you what have you sacrificed?”. His reaction to his old friend’s death is simultaneously sobering yet striking, and also provides the chance for his character to stun the audience one final time with his voice.

Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The final scene where Jesus is put to the cross is particularly striking, Montes’ interpretation of Jesus’s shock and desperation at his fate at the hands of the Romans is strikingly and starkly human. It is here that we see Jesus standing inside the cross, weeping in fear, set to the near-demonic tone of the audience. With the lights suddenly going out, we see Jesus taken away into oblivion, removing him from the stage, and by extension, from his connection to the living.

In summary, I’ve seen many different adaptations of Jesus Christ Superstar, but for me it is the cast that makes this show what it is; the actors are clearly passionate, the musical direction is superb, and the directors have proved their creative abilities. The show has three more performances. Be sure to catch this buzz before it’s gone.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Jesus Christ Superstar will run through October 21 at Just Off Broadway @ Epiphany, Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21206. For tickets email tickets@justoffbroadwaymd.com or purchase them online.

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Dear Friends at Just Off-Broadway: They May Not Be There For You

By Mark Briner

DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
In this internet age of 2017, there is not one person reading this column that does not have that ubiquitous, annoying friend or relative who bemoans all the woes of their lives to them personally—the sexless bedroom, the kids’ classroom struggles, the anger, hate, and silence on a daily basis—then logs onto Facebook and posts picture after picture of the perfect Osmond-like family moments, the spouse who is the love of their life, the all-American perfect 2.3 golden children who excel at everything, the blessings of family they gratefully thank God for on a daily basis, the entire “life is beautiful and I’m so thankful” package. As we find in the east coast premiere of Dear Friends by Reginald Rose, presented this weekend only at Just Off Broadway, it’s actually a tale as old as time. Except fifty years ago, the fraud was generally confined to suburban cocktail pleasantries and the annual fake Christmas card letter.
Originally a screenplay written for CBS Playhouse as part of a live television series of plays in 1967 starring such luminaries as Rosemary Harris, Eli Wallach, James Daly, Pernell Roberts, and Hope Lange, the saga opens at a dinner party for eight longtime dear friends hosted, secretly, in efforts to stage an intervention in concern for two of their group, Michael and Lois (Jason Crawford and Tracy Dye) who have recently separated. The ambush however backfires when we soon find that, like in real life, their efforts are not totally altruistic. The fact that one of their own marriages in their close-knit group could fall apart suddenly threatens each of the couples’ not so solid as they would have the others believe relationships.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


The play alternates between the events of the soireé on the traditional mainstage with flashbacks to each of the four couples in private on a satellite platform on the audience floor. In these transitions, we learn the cracks beneath each of their perfect veneers they wear for each other. In an attempt to contemporize a dated script (an affair—shocking!), director Patrick Jay Golden shakes up the gender balance (the four heterosexual white suburban couples in the script are now two straight, one lesbian, and one gay) and utilizes a welcome diverse cast of interracial relationships.

Penny Nichols and Tom Piccin. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Mature couple Lenny and Charlotte (Tom Piccin and Penny Nichols) encourage Michael and Lois to think of their children. But after a late night of Lenny “entertaining a client”, we find their marriage to be a farce fueled by a toxic cocktail of alcohol and anger. The darkest of the relationships, as they pour from a never-ending super-sized bottle of Canadian Club, they heap emotional and physical abuse upon each other in proportion to the alcohol they down. Yet the stay together because they can’t think of a better option to satisfy their individual selfish needs. Think of the children. Piccin and Nichols range from volatile to downright terrifying as the night carries on until these traits publicly unveil themselves at the gathering.

Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Lesbian couple Gigi and Vivian (Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer) actually seem to have a genuine loving relationship. Their only flaw, albeit a critical one, is their disparate views on starting a family. Vivian longs for the experience of motherhood; Gigi isn’t interested. However, they have an extra dimension to their deception. Whereas all the other couples lies are ones of (significant) omission, Gigi and Vivian add a layer of active duplicity, inventing medical complications including a fake cancer scare to justify Gigi’s refusal to have children. Palmer is sweet, gentle, and loving to a fault, burying any disappointment her wife’s decision evokes behind her radiant façade. O’Hara mines an addition layer to her character, so quick to be vocally “honest” regarding the flaws and fallacies of her friends, all the while perpetuating the biggest lie that caused everyone genuine concern and unwarranted worry.

Brad Angst, Joyanne Gohl, and Emmanuel Vickers. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


As the hosts of the evening, gay couple Douglas and Sal (Brad Angst and Emmanuel Vickers) are perhaps the most stereotypically comic in their personal scenes. Angst is the gay trifecta of precision, polish, and perfection, while Vickers is hyper-emotional and tending towards the dramatic. However, when Douglas does the math and deduces that Sal has been unfaithful, the couple draws deep on restraint and inner strength to consciously maintain that perfection they apparently consider so important to their public image. Their scenes are a cool complement to the bombastic, burn the house down Albee-esque theatrics of Lenny and Charlotte.

Tracy Dye and Jason Crawford. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


All the couples in the engaging cast have strong, well defined bonds between themselves, and hide these from the group in their own manipulative ways. But it is Crawford and Dye as the couple in the center of the storm who excel. True, they are aided by the strongest storyline in script, being the only couple who is completely honest with their friends and each other. But their private scenes are not about lies and resentment, instead they are about harsh honesty and unpleasant choices. Ironically the couples with all the secreted problems manage to stay together while these two drift apart not from issues and betrayals, but from simple stagnation. Yet in the midst of the histrionics of the dinner party aimed at saving them, they actually draw closer together, defending their privacy and each other, observing the dislikeable facets of their friends which makes them appreciate the qualities they admire in each other that initially drew them together. We leave the evening in doubt about the future of every couple in the piece, but these two with their amiability and genuine respect for each other, despite actually being separated, may actually be the strongest bet for the duo to be left standing down the road.
Though Theresa Bonvegna is the Resident Set Designer for Just Off Broadway, Jason Crawford and Patrick Jay Golden take the lead on this one and do an admirable job on the main dinner party set creating the ambiance of Douglas and Sal’s gay tastes, utilizing sleek lines in the furniture and fun accents like framed Broadway playbills and a Warholian shrine to Audrey Hepburn across the back wall. Their secondary set on the floor employs sometimes extravagant touches to set the tone of locales from an Atlantic City hotel room to a garden patio brunch. Sometimes his attention to detail on the secondary set leads to extended set changes between scenes. Perhaps they could have chosen a more generic design that could flex into different locations, or have collaborated with Golden to stage them in a common room in everyone’s house. However, having seen a press preview early in production week, these lengthy set changes could have very well ironed themselves out by opening night. Lighting designer Alex Powell gives contrasting effects for the chaotic party and the more intimate scenes on the floor.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Director Golden has assembled a very capable and engaging cast through which to interpret his revisionist piece. Golden defends his bold choices of shaking up the genders in the relationships by stating that at the core, all marriages suffer from the same base issues. (Famed gay playwright Terrance McNally might disagree). His able cast gamely embraces the challenge, but with mixed results. For instance, the gender flip of Gigi and Vivian defuses their script. A woman who isn’t interested in adopting or raising another woman’s child doesn’t carry the emotional heft of a husband who doesn’t want to have a child with his wife, the denial of a basic emotional need and betrayal of the very basis of their marriage. In the case of Douglas and Sal, however, the gender flip adds a layer of complexity when a revealed extramarital affair, a common enough issue in the gay community (famed gay playwright Terrance McNally would absolutely agree), transforms a bored bedroom dalliance amongst the group into a lie at the very core of another marriage with its down low implications of closeted homosexuality and an almost direct assault on the boundaries of the group as a corp.
Golden displays proficiencies to be a more intimate director, finding the heart in the scenes between the couples in their private territory, exploring their deceit and flaws while finding their unique pairings. He moves them fluidly through their paces and establishes their inner connections and their outward disconnects. Mechanically, though, his group scenes at the dinner party by contrast are slightly static, lacking blocking movement and physical dynamics. He is not aided by the major flaw in set design, laying out the living room like an actual living room and not a stage (or TV) set space. The sofa is centered and side chairs hug the walls completely across the stage, instead of being drawn into a more intimate central arena in relationship to the sofa and other set pieces. When actors are confined to these seats, the result is a lot of shouted unpleasantries across the room instead of the more personal, in your face assaults the words suggest. This also affects the pacing and emotional dynamics of these encounters since everyone hurls insults from a very safe distance, instead of the lines coming fast and quick, on top of and over each other in the face of the heated, impassioned revelations that unravel the group in the final scenes. Again, however, this was an early dress rehearsal and the cast may improve the pace by merely being more familiar with the scene as the week progressed.
Overall, Dear Friends is an evening of reflection that encourages one to look inward into their own relationships, and reminds us that those daily, awesome, life affirming Facebook posts those dear friends of our own make ad nauseum, usually mask, in direct proportion, the lies and insecurities that are at the heart of the exaggerations. Golden has given us a mirror in which to examine our own exteriors, and the multiple faces covering the various truths and lies that we tell the world, each other, and ourselves in order to get by at the end of the day.
This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Dear Friends… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Dear Friends will play through May 21 at Just Off Broadway @ JELC, 4506 Belair Road, Baltimore, MD 21206. For ticket reservation information, email justoffbroadwaymd@gmail.com or purchase them online.
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East Coast Premiere of DEAR FRIENDS, Reginald Rose's Obscure but Enlightening Play at Just Off Broadway

Just Off Broadway gives us an East Coast Premiere of a piece that rarely sees the light of day because of the playwright Reginald Rose’s more popular piece, Twelve Angry Men, but this piece, with some, but not much re-imagining, is as relevant and relatable today as it was 50 years ago.

For Immediate Release:
April 26, 2017
The Author of 12 Angry Men Gives Us a Story of What We Present to the Outside World and What Happens Behind Closed Doors
Baltimore, MD – Just Off Broadway presents the East Coast Premiere of Dear Friends, a drama from the Emmy award winning film and television author who gave us 12 Angry Men, Reginald Rose. Dear Friends is currently in rehearsal and runs ONE WEEKEND from April 18-21, 2017.

The Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Like the more popular 12 Angry Men, a teleplay for CBS Studio One in 1955, Dear Friends began as a 90-minute teleplay for CBS Playhouse aired in 1967 and, aside from a single matinee performance from theatre club at a small college on the banks of Lake Eerie, it hasn’t been seen on stage since. With the popularity of the 12 Angry Men, Dear Friends is a real-life, slice of life drama that has been hidden in the shadows for the last five decades until Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, Co-founder of Just Off Broadway, stumbled upon it while searching for a 2017 spring production. The author’s name was recognizable but the title wasn’t but by reading the first few sentences of the synopsis, it was clear this was an appropriate, near perfect piece for Just Off Broadway.

The Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Four married couples have been friends for several years and one of the couples, Lois & Michael, decide to call it quits. The other couples, Charlotte & Lenny, Gigi & Vivian, and Douglas & Sal want desperately to help these two see the error of their ways and realize divorce is not what they really want and concoct an intervention, unbeknownst to Lois & Michael. As the evening wears on, problems in all of the marriages and in the friendships themselves start to bubble to the surface. Are these dear friends trying to help Lois & Michael get back together because they truly believe it’s what’s best for them or… are Lois & Michael examples of the raw truth that could shatter the seemingly blissful lives of the others and they want to stop it for their own sakes?
Since it was written and produced 50 years ago, Just Off Broadway Co-Founder and first-time Director Patrick Jay Golden and Jason Crawford Samios-Uy have re-imagined this piece, updating it and bringing it into the 21st century. Diverse and non-traditional casting help to modernize this piece and make it more relatable to today’s audiences. However, the story itself stays in tack as they are timeless issues and situations any married couple through the ages could experience which makes this piece still relevant today.
Dear Friends features Brad Angst, Tracy Dye, Joyanne Gohl, Penny Nichols, Sarah O’Hara, India Palmer, Tom Piccin, Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, and Emmanuel Vickers and is Directed by Patrick Jay Golden. This production will play ONE WEEKEND, May 18-21 at Just Off Broadway @ JELC located at Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4605 Baltimore, MD 21206.
You may purchase tickets online at: www.justoffbroadwaymd.wordpress.com.
Reserve tickets by email: justoffbroadwaymd@gmail.com. Please use Subject Line TICKETS and include the following in the body of the email:

  1. Full Name
  2. Number of Tickets
  3. Date of Performance
  4. Contact phone number

DEAR FRIENDS is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.

New Backstage Banter for Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages


Click here to check out the Backstage Banter for Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages!
“Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together.”
Silhouette Stages

New Backstage Banter for The Women at Spotlighters Theatre


Click here to check out the Backstage Banter for The Women at Spotlighters Theatre!
“The Women… takes us back to a bygone era where women were expected to tend to home an children while men were expected to provide and, if a husband strayed, it was all good and no questions were asked as long as the wife kept lifestyle to which she was accustomed.”
Spotlighters Theatre