Jesus' Kid Brother
the Hudson Mainstage Theatre

Reviewed by Les Spindle
for Backstage West
and Frontiers Magazine

Grease meets Jesus Christ Superstar meets A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the nuttiest high-camp biblical epic since a toga-clad John Wayne mumbled his way through The Greatest Story Ever Told. As gleefully tasteless production numbers like "Leper in the House" alternate with Motown-style doo-wop tunes in a prodigious pop/rock score by the Karmelich brothers (Brian and Mark), there's scarcely a second to come up for air between laughs.

This beautifully crafted show blissfully resurrects the Hudson Group's glory days of small-scale musicals such as Reefer Madness and bare. Buying into this zany romp requires paying minimal attention to the loony narrative. The fun derives from the priceless zingers and knee-slapping anachronisms in the Karmelichs' book and lyrics. Larry Christ (David Brouwer) is suffering from low self-esteem and adolescent angst. He's not cut out to follow in the professional footsteps of his carpenter father, Joseph (Jeffrey Landman), who realizes Larry has a tough act to follow, considering the daily miracles carried out by his elder "bro," Jesus. "Forget all this biblical hoo-ha," croons Joseph. "Find yourself a good job and fall in love." Neither proves to be pieces of cake. The beleaguered Jews suffer under the tyrannical rule of dictator Pontius Pilate (Amir Talai) and his hunky Roman soldier Stu (the hilarious Benjamin Sprunger), whose glistening pecs suggest he spends his off-hours at the Roman equivalent of a WeHo spa. Unemployed Jews, such as the skill-challenged Larry, are threatened with crucifixion. To add to the complications, Larry has the hots for Pontius' daughter Mary (Katherine Von Till). What's a poor teenage schlemiel in Biblical times to do? The show's creators and director Jules Aaron, at the top of his form, devise plenty for him to do amid the lighting-paced parade of uproariously funny scenes and songs.

In the person of wide-eyed, golden-voiced Brouwer, Larry is such a charmer that we soon forget that superstar J.C. himself is absent from the story (well, mostly). All the way down the line, this is an exemplary ensemble, the sort we always hope to find in low-budget musicals but often don't. Leading lady Von Till is an amusingly cheeky ingenue. The second-banana romantic couple (Christopher Dean Briant as Larry's best bud, Barabbas, and Rana Davis as Mary's sister, Destiny) provide stellar support, as do Fernando Orozco Jr. as a boisterous Italian chef and Paul Morente and Todd Stern as bungling slaves. Brian Murphy provides rousing music direction and arrangements, leading a five-piece band, while Brian Paul Mendoza presents engagingly campy choreography. Don Gruber's cobblestone-rubble set is perfectly conceived, J. Kent Inasy's lighting displays his usual panache, and Shon LeBlanc's shrewd costumes add to the zany fun.

If this deliciously irreverent spoof becomes the sleeper hit that seems inevitable, picketers will probably skip the screenings of Mel Gibson's upcoming film The Passion and ensconce themselves at the Hudson instead. They'd best arrive early; box office lines will undoubtedly extend for several blocks. "Jesus' Kid Brother," presented by TriOmino Productions, Inc. in association with Elephant Stageworks at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 3-Nov. 23. $25-28. (323) 856-4200 ext. 29.

(c) Backstage West and Frontiers Magazine

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