By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
What do you get when you cross the greatest story ever told with with the rock opera sensibilities of the ’60s and ’70s?
The one and only “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Since its genesis as a concept album and subsequent Broadway debut in 1971, the Andrew Lloyd Webber- and Tim Rice- penned musical has been filmed twice, with a third movie slated for a 2014 release.
The show’s been recorded, revived and remade. Adaptations have portrayed the story of the last days of Jesus and his disciples in all sorts of contexts, within a wide variety of time frames, costuming, and environments.
So, when the creative team behind the Palace Theater’s community musicals was tossing around ideas for its 11th annual fall show, the most popular option seemed to be to present the rock opera as a faithful interpretation of the original material.
“All of the adaptations that have been out recently have been revisions, which re-envisioned what ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was,” said Lina Manning, production choreographer. “The creative team decided that … it was best to present a more traditional version. We understand that the majority of Hilo audiences have not ever seen a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ so why should we re-envision it? We decided to just go with the original story created by Webber and Rice.”
Musical Director Quack Moore agreed, adding that bringing the show back to its roots would help to revive the original themes that the material mined so well.
“This show has just had so many productions done that were so far out, there’s just nowhere to go,” she said. “Everyone’s been so far out of the box with it, we don’t even know where the box is. So, we’re going to go back in the box.”
But going back in the box won’t mean a boring show, Moore said.
“It will have some unique aspects. For instance, it’s going to be loaded with video. It’s kind of like harkening back to the ’70s, going all multimedia. We’ll have a light show and projections,” she said. “We’ve got a huge screen at the Palace, and we’ve gotta play that card. We can project all kinds of scenes without having to paint them and build them, and it looks terrific, too.”
Putting on “Jesus Christ Superstar” has proven a challenge from the very beginning, as well as a welcome surprise.
“When you pay this huge licensing fee to do these musicals, once that fee is paid, it’s non-refundable. And it’s months before you get to hold an audition. And you just open your door and people come in off Haili Street. It’s kinda thrilling. … and terrifying,” Moore said. “But miracles happen every year. The cast just appeared out of nowhere to fill these roles. This is a community, and an ohana assembles.”
Director Clay Callaway said that the biggest challenge for him has been having to figure out a lot of the details of the production with little or no guidance.
“The most challenging aspect of doing this production is the fact that you get nothing but a songbook with the license,” he said. “No prop list, no blocking, no set suggestions, no technical information about how to crucify an actor safely onstage and make it believable in the context of your vision, just the music and the lyrics.”
Among the other features that set this production apart from other shows is the constant pacing of the musical numbers, said Manning.
“A musical is typically songs and dances that are dispersed between scenes. But this is one long period of singing throughout the entire show. From the first opening of the curtain, every bit of dialogue is singing. … This has been a particular challenge for all three of us,” Manning said, referring to her fellow creative team members, including Moore and director Clay Callaway.
For Manning, the challenge has been to find ways to keep the characters on the stage moving about in interesting ways, without clumping together and making the scenes visually unappealing.
“At any time, there are between 37 and 41 people on stage,” she said. “It keeps fluctuating, but there are dozens and dozens of people on stage, a lot of mob scenes. I have to work to keep people moving and getting a balanced stage picture. Keep it balanced, and keep it interesting.”
Meanwhile, Director Clay Callaway says that he has researched and gathered a variety of images and composited them into a wide array of video backgrounds for each scene.
“Images of the Second Temple of Jerusalem as the sun sets into the night behind the temple, the room where the Last Supper reportedly took place is all there for all to see that venture out to see our show,” he said.
As for the plot of the production, keeping things interesting shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. The story focuses upon Christ’s final days, and upon the struggles between he and Judas Iscariot, the man who would ultimately betray him.
“What we have onstage is the relationships unfolding between Jesus and his Disciples and Mary Magdalene as imagined musically by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice,” said Callaway.
“The story of the Passion is a 2,000-year tradition in many cultures. Regardless of one’s belief, it is truly one of the greatest stories ever told,” he said.
It’s a dramatic tale the the public knows well, and that makes things especially tricky when putting on such a show, Manning said.
“Trying to do a Bible story and do it justice is always going to be challenging. People take their Jesus stories very seriously,” she said.
For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, call 934-7010.
“This is a great cast and everyone that auditioned was offered a role,” the director said. “Come see what your neighbors and friends have created for you.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.