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A CurtainUp Review
Jesus' Kid Brother

When I agreed to raise Jesus, I didn't know there would be so much pressure!
--- Joseph, to his other son Larry.

Joseph Sark and Christopher Dean Briant in "Jesus' Kid Brother" Joseph Sark and Christopher Dean Briant in Jesus' Kid Brother (Photo: Shashin Desai)
I wonder if the people at International City Theatre (ICT) had any misgivings about staging a play called Jesus' Kid Brother. Given that nowadays entire nations seem to lose their collective minds over bad cartoons, it must have raised a few eyebrows. However, I doubt any but the most fanatical could take offense at Brian and Mark Karmelich's play. It really goes out of its way NOT to be offensive. More apt words I would use to describe this light comedy would be "cute" and/or "harmless."

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.

Music, Lyrics, Book: Brian and Mark Karmelich
Directed by Jules Aaron
Choreography by Brian Paul Mendoza
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Brian Murphy
Cast: Christopher Dean Briant (Barabbas), Daniel Dawson (Ernest and Julio), Scott Dreier (Pontius Pilate/Judas), David Eldon (Stu), Andi Gibson (Mary Andrea/Shephard), Brett Glazer (Kris/Jesus/Peasant #1), Pamela Holt (Mrs. Pilate/Mary Elizabeth), Jeffrey Landman (Joseph/Peasant #2), Elaine Loh (Destiny Pilate/Mary Marie), Fernando Orozco, Jr. (Da Baker/Coffee Clerk), Joseph Sark (Larry), Kristen Beth Williams (Mary Pilate)
Set Design: Tom Buderwitz
Costume Design: Shon LeBlanc
Light Design: J. Kent Inasy
Sound Design: Kevin Rittner
Band: Brian Murphy, Conductor/Keyboards; Phil Moore, Reeds; Jeff Miley, Electric/Acoustic Guitar; Nicolas Gruter, Electric/Acoustic Guitar; John Flitcraft, Bass; Scott Palacios, Drums/Accordian
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission
International City Theatre (ICT), 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach CA, 562-436-4610
From 2/10/06 to 3/12/06
Times. Thurs. through Sat. @ 8pm, Sun. @ 2pm
Tickets: $35-40 on Thurs., $40-45 all other performances

Reviewed by David Avery based on 2/18/06 performance
Musical Numbers
  • Biblical Times - Company
  • Jesus' Kid Brother - Company
  • A Noble Goal - Larry, Joseph
  • Fly Away - Mary Pilate, Pontius Pilate, Destiny Pilate, Mrs. Pilate, Kris
  • Galilee's Finest Men - Mary Elizabeth, Mary Andrea, Mary Marie
  • Sermon on the Mount - Mary Pilate, Destiny Pilate, Larry, Barabbas, Peasants
  • I Bake-a Da Bread - Da Baker, Larry, Barabbas, Mary Pilate, Destiny Pilate
  • Ernest and Julio - Ernest, Julio, Larry, Barabbas, Mrs. Pilate, Mary Pilate, Peasants
  • Falling in Love - Mary Pilate, Larry
  • Great to Be a Roman - Barabbas, Larry, Mary Pilate, Roman Guards
  • Crucifixion - Stu, Pontius Pilate, Mrs. Pilate, Mary Pilate, Destiny Pilate, Kris, Peasants
  • Taste of Freedom - Larry, Mary Pilate
  • The Words Around Us - Da Baker, Ernest, Julio, Mary Andrea, Mary Elizabeth, Larry, Peasants
  • Destiny's News - Destiny Pilate, Mrs. Pilate
  • Free Barabbas Polka - Ernest, Da Baker, Mary Andrea, Barabbas, Destiny Pilate, Stu, Mrs. Pilate, Pontius Pilate, Peasants
  • A Man They Could Not Kill - Mary Pilate, Larry
  • A Man They Could Not Kill Reprise - Barabbas, Da Baker, Mary Andrea, Mary Pilate, Larry, Peasants
  • Jesus' Kid Brother Reprise - Company
  • Half Brothers - Company

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