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Jesus' Kid Brother
The show is set during the last days of Christ in the Holy Land and concerns the plight of his younger (and completely undivine) brother Larry (Joseph Sark). Larry is tired of being overshadowed by his famous and powerful brother ("He always gets to school on time because I have to walk all the way around the lake!"). His father Joseph (Jeffrey Landman) consoles him and tells him to find a path he is excited about. Love and family are the most important things in the world, he says, and Larry has nothing to prove. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in the Pilate (as in Pontius, played by Scott Dreier) household -- young Mary Pilate (Kristen Beth Williams) isn't interested in going through with an arranged marriage, and is openly defying her father.
That love blossoms between these two (dare I say it) star-crossed lovers is inevitable. Their attempts to realize their love in the face of enormous difficulties dominate most of the action.
While the Karmelichs' subject could run the risk of stepping on a few religious toes, they bypass the danger by creating a fantasy version of Judea that is distant enough from real scripture to allow us to laugh at the traditionally non-comical setting. The characters in this place hang out at "Star (of David) Bucks," and gripe about how difficult it is to be a Jew in biblical times. Telemarketing is a crucifiable crime (as is herding in a no-herding zone, and riding solo in the donkey carpool lane). This pseudo-Holy Land abounds with sight gags and references to modern times, as when the cast sings of "Hebrew nationals" --one of the peasants walks on stage with a hot dog.
The show is full of catchy songs, and devoid of excessive exposition. The music is mostly light rock, with brief forays into other styles (notably "Free Barabbas Polka"). The lyrics are entertaining enough, though several lines are throwaway and inserted merely to complete the rhyme ("They seem to want Barabbas to be released today/In an unrelated matter, here is your sorbet!"). The Karmelichs do an outstanding of finding humor in the facts of New Testament taken to absurd extremes: for example, in the song "The Words Around Us," the entire city complains about how Jesus' miracles are cutting into the baking and wine industries. Maybe his death won't be the worst thing to the struggling Judeans.
The actors are for the most part competent singers, with standout performances by Pamela Holt and Elaine Loh (as Mrs. Pilate and Destiny Pilate on "Destiny's News"). Larry is played as a likable sad sack that can't quite get over that he is cosmic second fiddle. Mary Pilate comes off as the spoiled princess type, until she falls for a "lowly" Jew. Pontius Pilate is a typical, if slightly clueless, noble, with a wife much smarter than he. The cast truly shines in its ensemble numbers, where the multiple harmonies create a full sonic palate.
The overall tone of the show reminded me of a combination of Jesus Christ, Superstar and Bye Bye Birdie, but lacking the overt social commentary of the former. The Karmelichs throw in a lot of "Christian" humor as well, with about six characters named "Mary" (one named "Mary Marie"), a song called "A Man They Could Not Kill" (followed immediately by "A Man They Could Not Kill" reprise), and an ending that involves one of the more overtly literal examples of Deus ex machina.
The show's greatest strength is its ability to poke fun at itself (and musicals in general). It calls attention to itself as a staged production repeatedly (at one point, Larry exclaims to Mary, "Quick, let's hide in the band!").
There are a couple of missteps that distract from the general charm: too many of the cast double in secondary roles, and one of the characters (Julio of "Ernest and Julio, wine makers") is, oddly, a puppet. Overall, Jesus' Kid Brother is breezy musical comedy with a pseudo-edge (the possible but never-realized blasphemy), and it succeeds as that. People who expect an attack on Christianity will be sadly disappointed; those expecting an evening of light entertainment will be happily fulfilled.
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