What’s a nice Jewish Boy playing Jesus Christ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar at Anne Arundel Community College? Benjamin Lurye gives us the divine details.
Ben: I joined this production in a somewhat unusual way–they had lost the actor who was originally cast to play Jesus, and I was recommended to Director Douglas Brandt Byerly by a colleague of both of ours to come audition for the replacement. It was mid-December – I went out to AACC, auditioned, was given the role, and then had a sing-through with the cast and chorus all in the span of about four hours! I wasn’t super-familiar with the music of JC Superstar outside of the super-famous songs, so I sight-read my way through most of it that night, but fortunately, I then had about a month or so to learn the material before we all got back together for staging rehearsals.
Why would a nice Jewish boy want to play Jesus? Well, first off, it’s important to remember that Jesus was, in fact, Jewish himself – so it’s really not such a stretch to play a member of my own religion, who believed essentially the same things then that I do today. Second, it’s important to me, as an actor, to realize that Jesus, in all likelihood, had little if any knowledge on the effect he would have on all history that came after him, so you can’t play anything that hints in that direction. Really, you have to play him as what he was: a man. What has to influence the portrayal is his relationships with the people around him, his relationship with God, his difficulties in managing his beliefs, how he deals with the adoration and hatred he alternately receives, and how he deals with the consequences of everything he does affecting so many people.
Our production is a semi-staged concert version of the show, with the focus on the music. Webber’s score isn’t easy, but I love vocal challenges. What’s really nice about the music is the elasticity that we’re given to create our own renditions of some of the songs – for example, Weber wrote a lot of “Gethsemane” with the intent that the actor wouldn’t follow the written notes, but would instead use them as a guideline and let the actor’s impulses and emotions guide the music. I’m pretty sure that Doug and I have created a version of the song that no one has ever heard before, which is pretty exciting.
Robert Bradley is playing Judas and explains how he got involved in the production.
Robert: I got into theater for the first time last year when I auditioned for Valhella, I ended up getting the role of Kar and since then I’ve really enjoyed being in rock operas, I was in my second one shortly after when I played Admiral Cockburn in 1814! The Rock Opera.
Jesus Christ Superstar and I have an interesting history actually, my first vocal coach was actually the understudy of Ted Neeley, he was Annas in the tours that featured Dennis DeYoung, Jack Black, and Sebastian Bach. Ironically enough, my band, Aries ended up opening for Bach last February. That being said, Judas is a treat to play, I’ve studied a number of performers from Corey Glover to the legendary Carl Anderson to add to my version of “Heaven on Their Minds” and since this is the 40th anniversary of the movie, I’ve worked hard to do Carl justice in the other songs using his runs and melismas throughout the show. I’d have to say that the most exciting part about this show is the fact that we have some very talented leads, this is truly a rock opera that puts the singing first.
Jesus Christ Superstar plays at Anne Arundel Community College – 101 College Parkway, in Arnold, MD on February 1, 8, and 9, 2013 at 8 p.m, with one matinee on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. For tickets, contact the Box Office at (410) 777-2457.
Mary Johnson’s article in the Baltimore Sun: “Superstar’ treatment at Opera AACC reflects homage to Lloyd Webber’s work.”