The Fall of Judas, 2000 - the New Yorker magazine

If was Manoel Felciano's big break - a shot at playing Judas in the current revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar," at the Ford Center. Judas is the best role in "JCS" (much better than Jesus, who has to hit all those pious high notes). Felciano, who usually sings the part of one of the disciples, got to play the role last Tuesday night, because the regular Judas, Tony Vincent, was sick.

The house was packed, in spite of the fact that Ben Brantley had been hard put to it to say anything good about the production in his Times review. Some members of the audience could be seen moving their lips along with the words as they were bring sung onstage. There are a remarkable number of people who can sing the whole show from memory, instrumental parts and all. (In his review, Brantley admitted to being one of them.) The story of Jesus Christ, with Jesus romanticized as a seventies rock star, represents a melding of powerful belief systems: rock and roll and Christianity. If you encountered it when you were around eleven or twelve, when your pop sensibility was still molten, it could burn itself into your consciousness pretty deeply.

Felciano seemed hurried as he flung himself into his first number, "Heaven on Their Minds." Near the end of the song, he made a particularly emotive rush toward the front of the stage and disappeared. He had fallen into the orchestra pit! There was an awful silence, followed by a thump, then a momentary, appalled pause by the orchestra, which managed to recover and get to the end of the song. As the company lumbered into the next number, "What's the Buzz?," Felciano, with the conductor boosting him from below, crawled up onto the stage and remained there, somewhat shakily. The audience went wild. Felciano's fall, which might have stopped the show, instead brought it to life for the first time.

The incident highlighted a big problem with the new production: it never manages to make the story of Christ relevant to anything real. The original "Jesus Christ Superstar" portrayed Christ and his followers as shaggy hippies who were being wrongly prosecuted by the corporate establishment. Today, it's unclear who is the rebel and who is the establishment, and you certainly can't tell the two apart by the clothes they wear. The new show's Pharisees are dressed as Nazis-via-"The Matrix," with some biker gear and gay-disco looks thrown in. The disciples still resemble hippies, but they also look like dancers in a Gap commercial.

At the curtain call, the crowd applauded tepidly for Pontius Pilate, Herod and Mary Magdalene, but when Judas appeared on the stage they jumped to their feet. Sympathy for the actor seemed stronger than empathy for the character he played, which was not necessarily a good thing for the show. You crucify a man onstage and it seems ho-hum, but the understudy falls into the orchestra pit and everyone feels his pain.

-John Seabrook