Millennial’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is just superb

COLUMBIANA — If Jesus had a fan club, what would it look like?

Probably a lot like the opening scene of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical being presented by the Millennial Theatre Company at the Crestview Performing Arts Center. His followers, who in today’s society would be considered “groupies,” carried signs with sayings such as #Blessed and Jesus Rocks. They hooted and hollered as they followed him around and some of them even swooned at his touch.

The modern-day story of Christ’s crucifixion also got a wardrobe update, with cast members wearing cutoff shirts, ripped jeans, bicycle shorts and other forms of spandex. The orchestra was on stage behind the actors, giving the show a more concert-like appeal without being distracting.

Jesus is played by Youngstown State University student Jacob Nash of Canfield. (Full disclosure: Nash is my nephew.) I have seen him in many roles, including as Gomez in “The Addams Family” and the beast in “Beauty and the Beast” while he was a student at Salem High School, but this is the role Nash was born to play. His gentle demeanor yet powerful voice combined for a remarkable performance that received a loud standing ovation at Sunday afternoon’s show.

The scene of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane where he prayed with his disciples the night before his crucifixion was especially moving. Nash combined the right amount of angst and sadness to convey the internal struggle Jesus had about his upcoming suffering and death. “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say”) was a highlight that showed off Nash’s vocal talent.

Mariah Cresanto plays Mary Magdalene, the reformed prostitute who falls in love with Jesus. Her performance of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was extremely emotional and enabled her to shine among a very talented ensemble. She struggled a bit in her opening solo “Everything’s Alright,” but she was still delighftul.

However, the real star of this show is Joshua Fleming as Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, which is not surprising because the story is told from his perspective.

Fleming’s booming voice was superb throughout the show, from his opening solo “Heaven on their Minds” to the scene where he commits suicide after realizing Jesus was going to be condemned. At certain points, his voice nearly drowned out the orchestra, but his portrayal of Judas as a mixture of anger and jealousy, combined with love and awe, was spot on.

Other notable performances were given by Kade Meredith as the high priest Caiaphas, whose deep baritone was a joy, and Landon Talbert as Pontius Pilate, who played the scene where he questions Jesus like an over-the-top game show host.

Local theater favorite Robert Dennick Joki made a cameo appearance as King Herod. He was only on stage for about five minutes, but it was a memorable five minutes and one of the show’s many highlights.

The show is directed by Girard native Joe Asente with musical director Savannah Florkowski and choreography by Kait Carson.