Theatre Review: Bigger than Jesus a Pure Ode to The Beatles
“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’.” A writer whose work makes my life a little better, Kurt Vonnegut, said that in 1997. In honor of the illustrious path The Beatles paved, Shadowbox Live created its newest production, Bigger than Jesus: a Live Rockumentary about the Band that Changed the World.
As a Stage 2 production, Bigger than Jesus comes from the company. They devised and produced this “bold and experimental” work. In the two hour span Shadowbox Live uses to tell the tale of a band that made over nineteen hours worth of music, the company performs thirty-three of The Beatles’ classics while interweaving their history. It is really one part quasi-documentary, one part traditional Shadowbox fare, and one part ode with many creative liberties, a sort of worship ceremony to the influences of the Shadowbox Live artists. A definite reverence to The Beatles emanates in each moment of the show.
As far as specifics of the performances, JT Walker III produces chills. His uncannily beautiful vocals on numerous songs, including “Norwegian Wood” and “A Day in the Life” really, truly make this show. Also, Katy Psenicka goes above and beyond with the choreography for this production. Each dance serves as a testament to the human capacity to create art, both in mental and physical states, much akin to the music made by The Beatles. Kudos to dancers Will Macke, Becca Heimlich, Amy Lay, Andy Ankrom, Nick Wilson, Eli Rousculp, and JT Walker III. The four dancers in “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” completely captivate and enthrall.
Film intersperses its way throughout the show, most effectively during the Noelle Grandison and Leah Haviland’s stunning performance of “A Hard Day’s Night,” where footage from the 1964 movie of the same name plays just upstage of the singers. As a rockumentary though, more frequent and consistent film integration would have only enhanced the experience.
Of course, with a show about a great band that focuses so intensely on their music, this production would fail without a talented band. The Bigger than Jesus band utilizes eleven different people to seemingly effortlessly play the music quite well. As with most Shadowbox Live shows, this production features some fine mixing (thank you, Scott Aldridge and Brian Kozicki), given the entire band and countless microphones making their rounds among the ensemble. It would be nice if the narratives were mic’d though as some proved difficult to decipher near the back of the house.
While this show offers much to love, it can feel a bit slow or just strange at times. It is a mixed bag, but not for any real reason I can pinpoint. Call it art. Call it a celebration of something that made people’s lives better. Bigger than Jesus may not be as great as The Beatles, but everyone will learn something about the band and everyone will be entertained.
Bigger than Jesus runs until August 7, at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front Street. Select Wed. & Thurs. at 7:30 pm; select Sun. at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Tickets $25. $20 student and senior. More information can be found online at Shadowboxlive.org.
Photos by Will Shively.