Local musician Ron Butler on trumpet

Coles Notes for Nelson version of Jesus Christ Superstar

I know everybody knows the plot of this story; it ends badly.

On November 8, the local production of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will open at the Capitol Theatre for a four day, six show run. Leading up the show, the Star has asked producer Margaret Stacey to write a series of columns on the show and the people involved in bringing it to life next month. This is the second of her four columns.

I know everybody knows the plot of this story; it ends badly. But what’s important in theatre is the journey getting there, so I’m giving a brief synopsis of the show. To me, it’s a tragedy, a lot like Julius Caesar, with Judas playing Brutus.

Judas, the right hand man, opens the show warning Jesus that the Roman conquerors object to another noisy sect, and complains that Jesus has become a national star: “you’ve begun to matter more than the things you say.” And that Jesus wastes his time with the woman Mary Magdalene. She is his faithful comforter, and is perplexed about her feelings for Jesus: “I don’t know how to love him.”

Meanwhile the high priests of Jerusalem are disturbed by Jesus’ superstar status with the hosanna-singing crowd of 50,000, calling them “half-witted fans.” The priests are as concerned as Judas about the political furor, foreseeing Roman “blood and destruction because of one man.”

Enter Pilate, the Roman authority, with a premonition of the future of the movement: “I saw thousands of millions crying for this man, leaving me the blame.” Jesus further angers the priests by expelling money lenders from the temple and the mob begins to sour on him as he is unable to heal and care for all of them: “Don’t crowd me, heal yourselves.” Judas, weighing it with his conscience and seeing that “Jesus can’t control it like he did before,” betrays him to the priests, hoping he won’t be “damned for all time.”

At the Last Supper, the apostles are proud to be his followers and they are looking forward to fame for writing the gospels; Jesus despairs at their “blank faces,” and predicts that he’ll be betrayed and denied by some of them. They even fall asleep as he battles with his destiny and God in the garden of Gethsemane: “Why should I die?… I will drink your cup of poison… do it now before I change my mind!”

What follows is Gospel history — Herod’s examination: “you are nothing but a fraud.” Judas’ suicide, an audience before Pilate, and a 39-lash whipping before a crowd that now wants their former star crucified, which happens shortly.

The end is grisly, and the second-to-last word of the rock opera comes from the voice of a contemporary Judas: “Did you know your messy death would be a record breaker?”

There it is folks. The Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

The story to me is like The Blind Men and The Elephant; everybody surrounding Jesus partially gets what he’s all about, but none of them have the whole picture that he knows, and most of them twist and misinterpret what they understand.

Why on earth would anybody want to see this show at all?

Well, because of the unbelievably great music, and the characters of this history which are often portrayed quite flatly in most Passion plays; they come alive in Superstar.

Another really special reason to see Superstar is that you can watch and hear 70 local talented people bring it to life. Kevin Armstrong and Laura Johnson have double-cast Jesus, Mary, Judas and Herod, so you even have an opportunity to see it done differently — if you go twice!

Jesus is played by Arron Nelson and Josh Murray, Mary Magdalene by Julie Johnson-Murray and Solona Armstrong, and Herod stars are Taylor Wilson and Michael Graham. The Judas role is shared by Kevin Armstrong and Michael Calladine. Watch for Bessie Wapp as Pilate, and Kevin MacKenzie as High Priest Caiaphas. There’s a flock of apostles, lepers, soul girls, reporters, money lenders, mob and crowd. There is dancing.

In the orchestra pit is a band of our finest musicians and teachers, and at the helm is the stage management team of Janet Cook, Mary Defeo and Olivia Bogaard, assistant director Pat Henman, technical director Dave Ingraham, choreographer (and apostle) MacKenzie Hope, designer Adriana Bogaard, with Michael Graham building costumes and Douglas Scott building the set.

With a team like this, the production will be great.

This show is usually played around Easter, but for some, it might lend to Remembrance Day an extra significance. We also hoped that it would be an event for people to attend at a holiday time, and at the rate the tickets are going, it should be a super-starry weekend in Nelson.


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