I was tired after several meetings and a long Monday. However, as production manager of the Jesus Christ Superstar show, it was necessary to drop into the last part of a musical rehearsal for the show. The cast was working on a piece sung by a crowd of beseeching lepers, and the level of skill was terrific. When I left I was very high from the infectious energy.
Lepers, you ask? Well, they were very, very powerful.
Jesus Christ Superstar: I’ve wanted to make this show happen for a long time. It’s never been done in Nelson before. I tried to get it going a few years ago and was unsuccessful (long story). But this year the stars aligned, as Kevin Armstrong returned from Germany with an opera track record, and he teamed up with his musical wife Laura Johnson for this show.
It’s coming together with a formidable cast of 58 people, an 18-piece band, a dynamic production team, and the backing of the Amy Ferguson Institute and Nelson Community Opera.
Why Jesus Christ Superstar? It launched in the early ‘70s and it was edgy. It was a time of questioning and activism. For some perverse reason I have been researching early backlash to the Webber/Rice production, and found a rant titled Four Things to Know Before Seeing Jesus Christ Superstar. You can Google it yourself for the details, but it’s pretty dry, and deals with all the theological rules that the show is supposed to break. However, for so many of us searching Boomers, it was fresh and startling, and the story was alive with questions, not the dogmatic answers that we were used to. The music was stunning, the characters were humans, and the show played all over the world. It’s still playing, still fresh, still full of questions, intriguing young and old, religious and non-religious.
I have never actually seen the show. I only know the score just about by heart, as did many of the auditionees for our Nelson production. The lyrics are so great that Herod’s mean nature, Judas Iscariot’s strident defiance, Mary Magdalene’s softness and Jesus’ anguish shine through the music.
I’m encountering people who have seen Godspell and confuse it with Superstar. Just to clear up this misunderstanding, it’s very different from Superstar, although created at the same time by Steven Schwartz in New York, not Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in London. Godspell is a series of parables with a playful cast.
Superstar is a tragedy, with Judas Iscariot arguably the protagonist; Mary Magdalene and Jesus are represented as passionate humans, with great songs like I Don’t Know How to Love Him and Gethsemane. Always in the background and foreground is the public crowd, the whimsical crowd, that follows a fad with adoration, and then condemns former heroes in the blink of an eye.
The man who made the title role iconic was Texan singer/actor/composer/rock and roll drummer Ted Neeley. Several times over a quarter of a century he was recalled to the role, the latest being the farewell “AD tour” of 2006 which was extended due to the show’s soaring popularity. I watched a YouTube performance in which Neeley’s fellow cast members were awe-struck and weeping in the wings as he delivered Gethsemane.
I’m no evangelist. I’m just a person who loves meaningful beautiful music. And this show delivers meaning and beauty in a powerful package.
Superstar launches at the Capitol on Thursday, November 8, playing into the long weekend of Remembrance Day. This is the first of four columns that Margaret Stacey will write about the inner workings of the local production.