by Norma Zager
Beverly Hills Courier

"Jesus' Kid Brother" Surprises and Delights Theatergoers

"Jesus' Kid Brother" is one of those delightful surprises you never expect and are oh-so-grateful to discover. It takes you on a ride back in time to the Biblical era and leaves you breathless with laughter and a sense of amazement at this talented group of theatre up-and-comers. This fun, upbeat and delicious musical is about Larry (hopelessly unemployed and living in the shadow of his brother Jesus), who falls in love with Pontius Pilate's favorite daughter. It's pure delight from the first bright and catchy tune until the last note; a feel-good-leave-the-theatre-singing show that should run forever.

How long has it been since you left the theatre, popped the CD in your car stereo and drove home singing? The talented brothers who wrote the book, music and lyrics -- Brian and Mark Karmelich -- managed to create a score which is not only upbeat and memorable, but also moves the production along handily. Tunes like the opening number "Biblical Times," which bemoans the difficulty of "being a Jew in Biblical times," ring with humor and truth and remain in your psyche. The song "A Noble Goal," a father's advice to his son, rings incredibly true, while the darkly humorous "Leper in the House" catches you off guard with its sense of whimsy and fun.

The direction by multi-award winner Jules Aaron is tight and fast-paced, never allowing the show to slow or the humor to fall short of its comic mark. With a premise which could so easily have become overdone and trite, "Jesus" never veers out of the realm of hitting the perfect note. The comedy is a perfect melding of clever and laugh out loud humor, combined to create a delightfully executed recipe for laughs.

But of course, raving about a production is senseless without applauding the cast and this is a cast deserving of rich accolades. What a talented group of much so you are constantly blown away as the play progresses. David Brouwer as Larry, Jesus' kid brother, gives humor and credibility to every moment of his performance. Bearing the burden of being the brother of the son of God, Brouwer plays it all with sparkling aplomb, pathos and humor. We alternately empathize with his plight and applaud his efforts to rise above, to remain upbeat and optimistic. His duets with Mary Pilate, played joyously by Katherine Von Till, are magical and awe-inspiring. "A Man They Could Not Kill" is a bluesy, jazzy rendition belted out in the best gospel tradition and just a shining moment of musical comedy. Pilate's anything but favorite daughter Destiny, played by Rana Davis, is a delight to watch. She plays the neglected sibling with a perfect amount of woe-is-me mixed in with a bit of I'll-getcha-back all spiced up with well-I-really-do-love-my-sister, and the mix is a one tasty offering in this theatre treat.

The dance number "Galilee's Finest Men," performed by Emily Falvey (Mary Andrea), Ali Spuck (Mary Elizabeth) and Beth Crosby (Mary Marie) ... oozes with humor and the three execute it with the right blend of frustration and satire. It's pure fun. The performances by Christopher Dean Briant as Barabbas, Jeffrey Landman as Joseph, Amir Talai as Pilate and Dana Reynolds as Mrs. Pilate were all exceptional and should be noted. A special mention goes to Benjamin Sprunger who played Stu, a bad guy with great appeal whose ability to make us laugh and dislike him at the same time is admirable.

Todd Stern (Kris) and Paul Morente (Kross), the official cross makers, are humorously reminiscent of Rosencrans and Guildenstern from Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona." Fernando Orozco Jr. as Da Baker, Michael Brown (Ernest), John Altieri (Julio), Lauren Ziemski (Morticia) and Rory O'Malley as the peasant all bring wonderful performances into the mix. There is no doubt you will be hearing the name of these talented performers for eons to come and always in positive and glowing tones. This is a cast that works together well and gives new meaning to the word ensemble. The choreography by award-winner Brian Paul Mendoza is perfectly in tune with the music and spirit of the production and a special thumbs up to J. Kent Inasy for accomplishing those tough light cues in a piece where there is constant movement and activity.

So, if you are looking for a fun and upbeat night in the theatre filled with lively music and dancing, great comic surprises and a chance to watch tomorrow's big Broadway hit in its infancy, make plans today. "Jesus' Kid Brother" is a surefire hit and a welcome addition to the wonderful family of theatre that is guaranteed to entertain and delight audiences for as long as laughter and fun are an important element in the human condition.

Through November 23rd at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 323-856-4200, ext.29.

(c) Beverly Hills Courier

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