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PHOTO BY KEN EK From left: Kennedy Kanagawa (Judas), Jessie MacBeth (Mary Magdalene) and Dan Cary (Jesus), PHOTO BY KEN EK From left: Kennedy Kanagawa (Judas), Jessie MacBeth (Mary Magdalene) and Dan Cary (Jesus), "Jesus Christ Superstar," through July 28, Muhlenberg College Music Theatre, Empire Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown

'Superstar' choreography

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 by JENNIFER McKEEVER Special to The Press in Focus

Liturgical to hip-hop: The story is told at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre

"Choreographically, I consider myself a kinetic storyteller," says Charles O. Anderson, the former Muhlenberg College professor now teaching dance at the University of Texas, Austin.

Anderson is the choreographer for the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre 33rd annual season production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," directed by James Peck with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, through July 28, Empire Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Opening the rock opera, which dramatizes the last seven days in the life of Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem through his crucifixion, is a ritualistic dance of the masses that presents Jesus, portrayed by Muhlenberg College, Class of '08 graduate Dan Carey, and Judas, portrayed by Actors Equity guest artist, Kennedy Kanagawa, also a Class of '08 Muhlenberg graduate.

"I am committed to working with traditional and contemporary boundaries of African-derived movement," explains Anderson.

The original choreography by Anderson for "Superstar" is modern and Africaninfluenced without referencing the show's original choreography.

"The dance seems to convey the mood of the masses, often framing the interactions between the main characters and the mob," continues Anderson.

Immediately evident is how the design of the set and costumes inform the way the dancers look and move. Annie Simon's costuming uses the grunge style. The set is a minimalistic design by Tim Averill.

Movement is foremost in such a setting. One can't help but notice each step clearly. Even when the dancers are not necessarily executing a phrase, they undulate with the music; their upper bodies keeping the tempo.

In one scene about Jesus in the bazaar, the dancers use flashy material as part of the choreography as they splash about the stage and create a cacophony as Jesus disperses them in a loud voice.

An impressive solo by Judas (Kanagawa) infuses modern dance. Anderson notes, "I am inspired by Bill T. Jones, as well as the late Tanztheater choreographer, Pina Bausch."

Peck describes Anderson's work as having a "mythic aspect to it.

"He's accustomed to telling stories of epic sweep that both frame political questions about social power and invite the visitation of spiritual forces.

"Anderson showcases Andrew Lloyd Webber's use of black vernacular musical forms of the 60's and 70's such as R&B, funk and soul. It's a thrilling combination of music and dance, and will be one of the unique and special joys of the production."

"Superstar" was a hit in its 1972 Broadway debut and 2000 and 2012 revivals.

With rock 'n' roll performed by a five-piece band (Ken Butler is music director), a talented cast in a stage show full of song and dance that melds the liturgical to hip-hop, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a musical with moments from the serious to the flashy.

This is the third and final part of a Focus section series about area summer theater choreography. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's "Oklahoma!' was profiled in the June 26 and 27 issue. Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre's "Crazy for You" was profiled in the June 19 and 20 issue.