Tonight (Friday March 31st) Springfield Little Theatre begins its three-week run of the first ever rock opera by the authors of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Evita" (and the composer of "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera": Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar." Director/choreographer Lorianne Dunn says she's "excited" about the production, which has wowed audiences for more than 40 years with its emotionally intense, edgy, thought-provoking and explosively theatrical depiction of Christ’s final days, propelled by a stirring, driving and majestic score.
While it's hard to imagine anyone being unfamiliar with such an iconic show, Lorianne Dunn reminds me of "a younger generation of people" who didn't grow up with the show as I did (as a 60-year-old)--and as did, though he's 15 years younger than me, Andy Bryan, Lead Pastor at Campbell United Methodist Church in Springfield, who plays Pontius Pilate in LT's production. "It's something I listened to as a little kid," says Bryan. "It's always been a part of my life. And it's been interesting being in a cast with members who are 20 years younger than me." Lorianne Dunn says the younger cast members indeed did not know the show before the entered the audition process. "They auditioned because they loved the idea of doing a 'rock opera.' They knew it would be strong; they knew there was a buzz about the show even before it was auditioned and cast. But they've grown to love it, and brought something new and special to it as well."
As a Lenten/Easter-season presentation of "Jesus Christ Superstar" is especially appropriate, says Andy Bryan. "In fact, I've made it a habit, every Lent, to listen to the soundtrack multiple times--kind of as a Lenten discipline. And it's been an absolute dream come true to do more than just listen to it, but to actually participate in it during this Lenten season."
While Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's score displays a definite late 1960s-circa 1970 musical vibe, that certainly doesn't limit the show, says Lorianne Dunn. "There are so many different production concepts for "Jesus Christ Superstar." And for this one we've chosen to tell the story through a contemporary lens. So you won't see 'Bible robes" and sandals--we're in contemporary dress. So it really does shine a mirror right back at the audience, and allows you to find yourself in the story. There's that very popular phrase, 'What would Jesus do?' And I've thought all along, 'What would YOU do?'"
"Jesus Christ Superstar" presents the Easter story through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. "He's kind of the narrator, keeps the action moving along, and we watch his inner turmoil, his inner dialog with himself, come to life onstage," says Andy Bryan. "Our Judas is played by Sean Spyres, and he's doing just a remarkable job. He's so vulnerable on stage." Adds Lorianne Dunn, "'Visceral' is a word that's being tossed around--not just for Sean's performance but really to encompass the production. And there are sensational performances: Chip Holderman as Jesus; Billy Gowers as Ciaphus; Patrick Schuster is doing double duty as Annas and King Herod--he is just a hoot! Maggie Shermoen is an MSU Musical Theatre major who's performing the role of Mary. And our ensemble is fierce and emotional and physical and resonsive. It's pretty much been a dream process."
There are 46 people in the on-stage ensemble and a pit orchestra of 18 players, under the direction of Susan Gravatt. Mention of the orchestra stirs up yet more enthusiasm in director/choreographer Lorianne Dunn. "Oh! They're wonderful--they're a remarkable ensemble. It's a full orchestra--I was calling it a 'band,' and I was mistaken!"
"The music (in this show) is different," says Dunn. "Much of it is dissonant." "They're not light, little catchy tunes," adds Bryan. "It hits you hard. The rhythms are intricate and the melodies are beautiful. And it does make an impact on you, no question about it." Lorianne Dunn sums up by saying, "Don't miss out on this one--it's something to be experienced."
Springfield Little Theatre's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" opens Friday March 31st and runs through Saturday April 15 at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut. Performances will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays April 2nd and 9th at 2:00pm, and an extra matinee performance Saturday April 15 at 2:00pm. (SLT elected not to do a final performance on Easter Sunday the 16th.) Tickets range from $12 to $30. For information visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Landers box office at 869-1334.