A "Heroic" Night
- Monday, November 24, 2003
!Hero, a Christian rock opera depicting the gospel story in a contemporary setting, wrapped up its fall tour last night in San Antonio. By the numbers, the tour was a smashing success, selling out most of its 21 dates—likely setting up a spring leg of the tour. The energetic 2½-hour show starred Michael Tait (dc talk, Tait) in the lead role of Hero, a modern-day Jesus; Rebecca St. James in the role of Maggie, a modern-day Mary Magdalene; and Audio Adrenaline frontman Mark Stuart in the role of Petrov, a modern-day Peter. The supporting cast included the talents of T-Bone, Paul Wright, Donnie (formerly of Raze), Tait's personal band, and others, plus a fine ensemble of dancers/back-up singers. The story was written by Christian rock vets Eddie DeGarmo and Bob Farrell. A double-disc CD was released in September, accompanied by a series of book and comic books. (For more info, go to www.herouniverse.com.)
Christian Music Today sent a team of four to one of !Hero's final shows. Here's what each of us thought of that particular performance:
Andy Argyrakis, Freelance writer and critic,Christian Music Today
Thanks to a musically proficient cast whose acting debuts were quite solid overall, the first leg of the !Hero tour accurately conveyed the gospel message it set out to proclaim. Much of the evening's strengths were in the storyline's adaptation to contemporary contexts, such as the rap/rock/pop combination of music, the Last Supper's humorous yet tasteful transformation into a barbeque, and Jesus' death on a New York City street sign. The intent was to approach Christ's passion, death, and resurrection in a seeker friendly/MTV-styled approach. Thanks to street-savvy lyrics, costumes, set design, and production, the show seemed to live up to those goals. Add well-planned and implemented interaction by lead personalities Tait, St. James, and Stuart, and the event not only resulted in an enjoyable, faith-enriching night for Christians, but also a relevant platform for seeds to be sown among the seeking population.
Todd Hertz, Associate Editor,Campus Lifemagazine
I thought of !Hero more as a rock concert with a theme than a traditional musical. As such, it rocks. It's a fun, engrossing blend of multimedia and stage show. The stars do less acting than in-character performances of hard-rock and hip/hop songs that take us through Jesus' ministry and crucifixion. Tait, St. James, and Stuart interact with the audience, bringing energetic passion to their message. It's an explosive and fun MTV revisit of the gospel story. Unfortunately, the storytelling is more conceptual and abstract than a clearly-plotted out drama. Someone unfamiliar with the Gospels may not be able to follow along or understand what's so great about this Hero. Thus, the show may not successfully reach the unchurched. But as evidenced by the crowd, it is a well-received and thrilling retake on the passion play for Christians and especially youth groups. At times, !Hero felt like a first-run show trying to find its legs. Hopefully, it will continue and improve on these rough spots, because the show is striking and fun.
Russ Breimeier, Director and Chief Music Critic,Christian Music Today
As the "theater buff" of our group, I'm forced to give !Hero a mixed review. It needs tweaking, as evidenced by some awkward transitions between scenes and stilted dialogue between songs. Though Tait's band supports the actors instrumentally, much of the music relies on backing tracks from the original concept album. This helps the vocals rise above the music for clarity's sake, but seems awkward when many of the supporting players are clearly lip-synching. Perhaps most problematic is that !Hero seems too conceptual for most non-Christians to appreciate—I'd argue that the theologically-challenged Jesus Christ Superstar better illustrates our Savior's suffering and Godspell his teachings. Nonetheless, the concept is sound and it's generally enjoyable. The "book" may be rough, but the execution is still fun. Tait gives an especially affecting vocal performance and St. James lights up the stage during her numbers. The songs come across more energetic and memorable live than on CD. You'll enjoy !Hero most if you think of it less as first-rate theater, and more a family-friendly thematic concert experience.
Mark Moring, Editor-at-Large, Christianity Today International
I give !Hero two thumbs up (I've got two hands, so why not?). The music was appealing and well-performed, with few exceptions. I tapped my foot the whole time, and sometimes caught myself head-banging. Tait, St. James and Stuart were stellar—both musically and dramatically. Extra props to Donnie for her stirring performance as Mama Mary and Jairus' wife. Visually, !Hero was a treat—from the costumes to the set design to the dancing to the background video montage. Conceptually, it's also a winner—the old, old story made brand new. Still, at times the story was muddy. Those unfamiliar with the Gospels might not "get" every scene; even "veteran" Christians were confused by some story elements. A printed program—like a playbill distributed free at theatre productions-would have helped immensely; alas, none was handed out. Something similar, however, was for sale. (Note to organizers: Give out free programs next time around.) But those are minor quibbles. Overall, it was a marvelous production, and I'd recommend it to anyone.
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