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'Jesus Christ Superstar': Long-awaited Ovation! production takes the stage this week
A rocking guitar riff soars over a manic drum beat as a big guy with flowing long hair lets rip with vocals that would be at home in any arena concert.
Obviously, this is not going to be your normal night at the theatre.
Surprise, however, is par for the course when experiencing Ovation! Musical Theatre’s latest production, the groundbreaking rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Featuring lyrics by Tim Rice paired to the music of the incomparable Andrew Lloyd Weber, the controversial musical was originally released as a concept album in 1970, and the popularity of the original shows in London and Broadway proved so intense that the show has been almost continually toured across the world in the ensuing decades.
“‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ has been on our short list for 10 years but it’s been difficult to obtain a license due to its tremendous popularity,” explained Ovation! co-founder Marijane Milton. “We were thrilled when the window finally opened and are delighted to be presenting one of our favorite shows with a vibrant rock orchestra and an outstanding cast.”
The musical’s director Ron Milton acknowledged the complications of reinterpreting such a well-known show written by the likes of Weber, one of the world’s most influential composers, who was just 22 at the time he wrote it.
“Every time I hear this music I’m shocked that it came out of a 22-year-old,” Ron Milton said. “Sometimes genius touches somebody and they may not even know it.”
The show’s subject matter, which proved controversial at the time of its release, is tame compared to what theatre can do today, Milton said.
“It’s told from a humanistic point of view,” he said. “We let the audience make up their own minds.”
The show tells the story of the last days in the life of Jesus, played by returning Ovation! favorite Gary Chambers, mainly through the perspective of Judas Iscariot, played by Ryan Patrick O’Donnell in his Ovation! debut.
As fervor builds throughout his followers, Jesus begins to realize that his movement may be getting out of hand and away from his original teachings.
Judas, the first apostle, begins to suspect that Jesus has bought into his own hype, and worries that the man has become more important than the lessons they originally set out to teach.
Though the end of the story is know to all, the unique take on the classic Bible story has continually resonated with audiences of many different faiths.
“Judas is not entirely bad,” Milton said of perhaps history’s most famous traitor. “And Jesus is not entirely good.”
O’Donnell plays Judas with an amazing blend of determination and conflict. He is, after all, a man about to betray his best friend. His negativity originally appears to the audience to be jealousy, however, after watching the truly unnerving worship of Jesus by the overzealous followers, one begins to share his concern.
Though the morals may be open to interpretation, the music definitely boasts universal appeal.
The show’s 16-piece rock orchestra, led by first time Ovation! musical director Brandon Peck, features numerous prominent regional performers including lead guitarist Justin S Davis.
“To do this amazing score justice you need an incredible lead guitarist,” Peck said. “And we found that in Justin.”
Davis, also making his Ovation! debut, has performed and recorded with some of the world’s finest musicians including Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, Brendan Hill of Blues Traveler and many others.
“I’ve liked this music since I was in high school,” Davis said of the show. “I think everybody likes it. It’s rock-and-roll. Who doesn’t like rock-and-roll?”
The melding of orchestra and rock melodies has proven to be a rather seamless process under Peck’s direction, Davis said.
“Everyone is playing great,” he said. “It’s basically a passion play. That story has been told a bunch of different times in a bunch of different contexts. I like the rock-and-roll take on it.”
As the conductor, Peck believes that this musical in particular harkens back to the golden age of broadway musicals.
“Broadway today is very technology reliant,” he said. “This was originally done in ’72, with only people, power and perseverance. There were none of those peripherals. There’s very little spoken dialogue, it’s almost all singing. We get loud and ruckus.”
“Jesus Christ Superstar” will run from Friday, Dec. 6 to Sunday, Dec. 22, with shows every weekend starting at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays in the Bainbridge High School theatre.
Tickets are on sale now and available for purchase in person at Winslow Drug, online at www.brownpapertickets.com and by phone at 1-800-838-3006. The cost is $27 for adults, $24 for students, senior and military and $19 for youth under the age of 12.