Theatre Review: Local brothers do well with new musical

Reviewed by Mary Scott Bellgraph, Peninsula News

Brian and Mark Karmelich told me they weren't making fun of religion with their new rock musical, they were merely having fun with it. I had little belief they could pull it off without offending people. I mean, come on, a musical comedy about something as controversial as religion -- especially in the atmosphere we live in today. But "Jesus' Kid Brother" is not only blasphemous-free but it's funny, clever, fast paced and entertaining. Sorry guys, I didn't mean to doubt you.

"Jesus' Kid Brother" is the type of musical that can appeal to a wide range of people -- from devout Jews and Christians to even the non-religious folks. Since it opened Feb. 10 at the International City Theatre in Long Beach, "Jesus' Kid Brother" has had audiences buzzing. It's about Larry Christ, the younger son of Mary and the only son of Joseph, and what it's like for him to live in the shadow of his famous brother. If you understand sibling rivalry, you'll the gist of the show.

Larry is an average guy. All he wants to do is to find a job, meet a girl, fall in love and live as happily as any Jew could in Roman-ruled Jerusalem. But Larry has an inferiority complex -- he can't possibly live up to Jesus' academic success, athletic talents, unwavering compassion for the meek and weak, or his ability to raise the dead.

His dad convinces Larry it's not easy being Jesus' stepfather either, what with his real Father looking over his shoulder all time. Joseph tells him it's time to forget about being Jesus' kid brother and go be himself, to look for his own "Noble Goal". Agreeing, Larry and his best friend, Barabbas, set off to find jobs. First they work for the Da Baker. Then they go to work at the Ernest and Julio Galileo winery, then try a Roman bath -- they have a little trouble maintaining employment.

He may be unlucky with the bosses, but Larry finds himself lucky in love. While serving lattes at the Star of David Bucks, he finally gets up the nerve to talk to Mary, the favorite daughter of the powerful Pontius Pilate. But unions between Jews and Romans are forbidden, so they date in secrecy. When the two are caught, they go on the run and hide among Jerusalem's population. But they find a growing contention for Jesus -- he has put a damper in the baker's business by multiplying loaves of bread and no one is buying from Ernest and Julio as long Jesus is turning water into wine. Larry and Mary inadvertently get involved; craziness ensues and Jesus inadvertently gets crucified. Can Larry find redemption?

First a song written by the Karmelichs for their band, Sauce, "JKB" grew into a full-blown musical. This is only the second production of the show. It first ran to rave reviews at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood in 2003. Between the two productions, Mark and Brian have shopped "JKB" in New York with a showcase. With the musical quickly gaining popularity on the West Coast, I don't think it will be long before the Karmelichs, who by the way are San Pedro natives who grew up in Miraleste, will be back in New York opening on Broadway.

Cast: The ICT production boasts a cast of strong vocal talent. There's not a weak voice or performance in the bunch. Taking the lead are Joseph Sark as Larry and Kristen Beth Williams as Mary. If you managed to get to the Pantages Theatre this past Christmas you saw Williams as Rhoda in Irving Berlin's "White Christmas". Sark, new to Los Angeles, was recently seen in the national tour of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". Joining Sark and Williams are Christopher Dean Briant (Barabbas), Jeffrey Landman (Joseph) and Fernando Orozco Jr. (Da Baker), all of whom originated these roles at the Hudson, as well as Daniel Dawson (Ernest), Scott Dreier (Pontius Pilate), David Eldon (Stu), Andi Gibson (Mary Andrea), Brett Glazer (Kris), Pamela Holt (Mrs. Pilate) and Elaine Loh (Destiny Pilate).

The production is directed by Jules Aaron, also returning to the show from the Hudson. Brian Murphy, who helped arrange JKB's. score, provides musical direction. Award-winning choreographer Brian Paul Mendoza, lighting designer J. Kent Inasy, set designer Tom Buderwitz and costumer Shon LeBlanc round out the creative team.

(c) 2006 Copley Press, Inc.

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