[For more photos, see Timothy Norris' slideshow “Peaches Christ Superstar @ The Orpheum Theatre”.]
“Peaches Christ Superstar”
December 17, 2010
The Orpheum Theatre
Peaches, clad in a plain, pale leotard and leggings, and wearing ballet shoes barely breathed pink, walked onto a bare stage grounded by a grand piano manned by longtime collaborator Chilly Gonzales. The energy in The Orpheum quieted and turned curious. Where was the “Jem and the Holograms” makeup? The fingerless opera gloves trimmed with hair? The fried mane feathering with static electricity?
If you were waiting for an (in)famous Peaches' performance, as deliberately over-the-top as her electrosynthglamrock music, you could exhale. Last night, the show wasn't, and yet was, all about Peaches.
To be fair, “Peaches Christ Superstar” is a bit of a misnomer.
Considering her gender-bending, sexually explicit musical background (the albums Fatherfucker and Impeach My Bush, her club-ready breakthrough single, “Fuck the Pain Away”), it was logical to anticipate a raunchy, irreverent ride. Even if you knew the premise of the show is Peaches singing every role in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, you could still safely assume a thoroughly reworked, ribald interpretation. “I'm especially looking forward to '39 Lashes,'” my friend said. But with staging no more complicated than walking, and one lone prop, she was stripped of all pretense and decadence. Peaches just sang, and beautifully.
There was no room on the stage for antics, anyway. She and Gonzales knew what they were up against; both had loved the musical for years. (Peaches has said that when she was sixteen, she often sang the whole thing to herself alone in her room). Jesus Christ Superstar is not just musically challenging, it's flush with emotion. With nine principal roles, the parts are sung in everything from bass to alto. And this is the story of the crucifixion–Jesus is fraught with doubt, Judas is wracked with indecision, Mary Magdalene is tormented by unrequited love, Annas and Caiaphas are slickly glib. Parts and emotions weave and overlap like the most web-like of L.A.'s freeways, often all in one song.
Alternately attacking and tickling the piano, Gonzales pounded out furious thunderstorms and plinked out the jaunty pop and vaudeville rhythms with equal mastery. It's hard to imagine the musical sounding any better with a full orchestra.
For her part, Peaches played the entire show straight, so much so that it almost felt like a very talented theatre major's performance thesis. Whether eyes flashing, body broken, lips curling, or voice plaintive, she immersed herself in the exhausting emotional torrent. Peaches may flip her middle finger to the Establishment, but she treated Jesus Christ Superstar with such respect, restless (= drunk + not knowing the musical) fans' screamed adoration rolled off her back. Only once did she directly engage the audience. Even her plopping into the splits during “King Herod's Song” was character-driven.
When she came out looking a lot more like “Peaches” in Act Two, having blackened her brows, teased her hair, and donned a gold lamé leggings/puffer jacket combo that resembled a Leslie Hall creation, the audience seemed relieved. Energized by the eight dancers that emerged from the audience to hoist Peaches onto her cross, they pepped up for “Superstar,” the finale.
But there was something haunting about this unexpected heroine standing in a pool of light in that first, scrubbed state, when she wasn't “Peaches.” Rarely do you glimpse insight into who a consummate performer like Peaches really is underneath all the makeup, but this just might have been one of those occasions. No doubt her sixteen-year-old self was the one taking that curtain call.