Theatre — Jesus Christ Superstar
By Michelle Saturley
Tell me what’s happening — Actorsingers present Jesus Christ Superstar
It can’t be fun to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sure, he’s got tons of awards, astronomical fame, oodles of cash, and that ever-so-knightly “Sir” in front of his name. But when the lights go down, Webber must face the ugly truth: he peaked as an artist over thirty years ago.
Yeah, I said it.
Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is his Opus — his first (and, arguably, only) piece of true artistry. He wrote it with lyricist Tim Rice in 1970 at the tender age of 19, and has been trying to top himself ever since.
So instantly recognizable is the dark, moody score (JEE-SUS CHRIIIST…. SUUUUPERSTAAAR!), even Webber himself plagiarized it in later shows. So brilliantly crafted are the leads—the reluctant but resigned martyr, the tortured and remorseful villain—they are the archetypes to which every musical theater major in the world aspires.
“For a musical theater actor, playing the roles of Judas or Jesus is like a rite of passage,” said Paul Metzger, director of the Actorsingers’ upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which opens April 29. “That’s when you know you’re good — if you can get cast in the role, and more importantly, pull it off.”
Brian Waldron, who will play Jesus in the production, agrees. “When I found out I got the role, I cleared my schedule for the next three months,” he said. “I knew this was the only project I would be able to do.”
“I usually do one or two plays at the same time, but not this time,” said Kevin Roberge, who plays Judas. “I knew it would be demanding vocally, but I had no idea about all the emotional stuff. I’m exhausted. I mean, I died three times today already.”
Not only will this be the first time Superstar has been performed in Nashua, but it also marks the first time that Actorsingers will perform a show for two weekends instead of their traditional one. Metzger says it’s because of the popularity of the show.
“Last year, we did a ‘Viewer’s Choice’ poll at the end of the season, asking our audience to vote for the play they wanted us to do,” he said. “Superstar was the winner.”
But Metzger didn’t want to do the same old staging of the show.
“That ‘70s era, hippies-dancing-around-in-biblical-robes thing has been done to death,” he said. “The music in this show can speak to a contemporary audience. It still has that edge. So I needed to update the staging to go along with that.”
Metzger’s concept is that Jesus returns in present-day America to a decaying city run by drug lords. Jesus appeals to the drug-addicted, morally bankrupt masses, preaching his message of hope, understanding and tolerance. The people soon rally to his word, leaving behind their dependency on drugs and the dealers who sell them. The drug lords obviously aren’t too happy about this, and take it upon themselves to crucify him.
“My big question to the audience with the show is: if Jesus did come back tomorrow, would anyone follow him? Would people give up their possessions and leave their families to support him? When he is captured, would you stand up for him, or would you deny him, like Peter does in the show? And if you did choose to follow him, would he be seen by others as some kind of wacko cult leader?”
The cast has been in rehearsal for more than two months, learning the non-stop musical numbers and choreography. The set design and costuming mirror the director’s concept: the abstract set looks like a burned-out urban neighborhood, complete with graffiti and prostitutes. Even the choreography is more hip-hop than hippie. The apostles (who are very strong vocally) are dressed like gang members, with assault weapons and bling. The priests are instead drug lords, dressed in Armani suits and surrounded by P. Diddy-style bodyguards. Judas dons a leather jacket, while Jesus, still a hippie at heart, wears sandals and khakis.
Metzger said he was worried about finding two strong male actors to play the leads — a concern that was quickly dismissed at the open auditions.
“Something about Superstar brings actors out of the woodwork,” he said. “This score is musically challenging for everyone — all the people in this show, from the leads to the ensemble, have to be triple threats. When I saw how much talent we had at the first audition, I knew I was in luck. I’ve never seen so many talented guys audition.”
“The callbacks for Judas were intense,” Roberge said. “There were four actors in the running for the role and they were all really good. I stayed up half the night wondering if I was going to be cast.”
Roberge was thrilled when he checked the cast list and saw he had been given the coveted role. Last year, Roberge was nominated for a NH Theatre Award for his portrayal of sweet transvestite Frank-N-Furter in The Acting Loft’s production of The Rocky Horror Show.
“Judas is a big departure for me from what I usually play,” he said. “I’m usually more of a comic actor. My usual role would be something like Herod. But this was a chance for me to break out of that.”
Waldron, fresh from his NHTA Best Actor in a Musical win for his role as the Emcee in MadCo’s dark, mesmerizing production of Cabaret, is ready to show what he can do as well.
“I’ve never seen the show live before, but I was traumatized by the movie when I was a little kid,” he joked. “I am a religious person, so being able to play this role was big for me. I just hope I can do it justice.”
“Don’t let his modesty fool you. He’s got the acting chops and the vocal range,” Metzger said. “He’s great.”
Jesus Christ Superstar will run April 29, 30, May 1, 6 and 7 at the Edmund Keefe Auditorium, located in the Elm Street School, 117 Elm St. in Nashua. Tickets are $15 and $12. For more information, go to www.actorsingers.org or call 320-1870.
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