Jesus' Kid Brother

By Julio Martinez
Copyright (c) Variety

Brothers Brian and Mark Karmelich, leaders of local '90s club band Sauce, have funneled their skilled melodic sense and irreverent sensibilities into a highly inventive if jaundiced perusal of life in Galilee, focusing on the life of Jesus' half-brother Larry (David Brouwer) as he languishes in the shadow of his overachieving sibling. The Karmeliches' thematic inspiration gets murky by play's end, but this doesn't dampen the impact of this ambitious, amazingly energetic rock tuner. Helmer Jules Aaron and choreographer Brian Paul Mendoza have molded a talented 18-member ensemble into a powerhouse performance juggernaut.

The show's humor stems principally from the juxtaposition of the period sets and costumes (nicely wrought by Don Gruber and Shon LeBlanc, respectively) against the offbeat contemporary dialogue and topical references. When they're not being persecuted by the Romans, the Jews hang out at the local "Star (of David) Bucks." Along with the usual assortment of riffraff and false prophets, Pontius Pilate (Amir Talai) also enjoys crucifying telemarketers. And poor schlep Larry feels his more athletically and academically gifted brother had an unfair advantage in football (Jesus always connected on his "hail Mary" passes) and never failed to get home from school first to do his homework since he didn't have to walk all the way around the lake.

The actual somber reality of Jesus' life and crucifixion is buried within all this silliness, which cleverly manages to avoid profaning the gospels or demeaning anyone's beliefs. Instead, the Karmeliches inventively place the emphasis on the burgeoning romance between Larry and Pontius' daughter Mary Pilate (Katherine Von Till). Brouwer and Von Till capture perfectly the callow zest of two not-too-bright romantics who bumble their way to love and happiness. They're also consummate musical performers who offer soaring renditions of the first act rock ballad, "Falling in Love," second act opener "Taste of Freedom" and the poignant "A Man They Could Not Kill."

An outrageous menagerie of biblical folk provide the comedic energy. There is Mary Pilate's sister Destiny (Rana Davis), a decidedly anti-Jewish patrician beauty who can't understand why she is so overlooked by papa Pontius. She receives a hilarious wakeup call to her true heritage when her mother (Dana Reynolds) confesses her marital wanderings in the comical duet, "Destiny's News." The shenanigans of Larry's buffoonish best friend Barabbas (Christopher Dean Briant) nearly land him on the cross, until he is rescued by the agenda-driven populace ("Free Barabbas Polka").

The show makes impressive use of the various ensemble members. Reminiscent of the harmonizing of the swing era Andrews Sisters, the trio of Candace Devine, Emily Falvey and Beth Crosby rip through an infectious boogie beat tribute to the Apostles, "Galilee's Finest Men." Ultimate geek technicians Kris (Todd Stern) and Kross (Paul Morente) harmonize rhapsodically over their adroit crucifixion output, "That Perfect Cross." And Da Baker (Fernando Orozco Jr.) and the winemaking duo of Ernest (Michael Brown) and Julio (John Altieri) offer comical interjections as a trio of self-serving merchants who lament that Jesus' abilities might put them out of work. Also impressive are Benjamin Sprunger's straight arrow rendering of cruel-to-the-max Roman centurion Stu as he gleefully anticipates the "Crucifixion," and Jeffrey Landman's heartfelt outing as Larry's empathetic dad Joseph.

Click here for scanned image from Variety

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