Workshop Players resurrect Jesus Christ Superstar

Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By David Ebert A rock opera is a compilation of rock music in one album that presents a storyline using multiple parts, songs or sections similarly as in traditional Opera. However, the genre differs from conventional rock albums that consist only of a compilation of tracks with no unified theme whatsoever, while rock opera gives you a series of songs that each play an individual part in the larger narration of a story. The first ever album to be billed as a rock opera was ‘Tommy’ by British rock gods The Who in 1969, composed largely by the band’s charismatic lead guitarist Pete Townshend. It told a moving story of Tommy; a boy in a self-induced catatonic state brought on by emotional trauma who goes through the process of being cured and accepted, only to realise that his inner world is much safer and stable place, causing him to retreat within once again. Although the album was commercially successful, it never made the transition to a full-on stage production unlike the second rock opera that it inspired. In 1970 lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber produced and released their own rock opera musical that told the story of the last week of Christ among his disciples and is based loosely on the Gospel accounts of his life. They named it Jesus Christ Superstar. Consisting of two acts with 24 songs in total, the rock flavour of the album was and is still very different from Webber’s later works. This was mainly due to the choice of singers chosen by the duo to portray the characters originally e.g.: Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan singing the part of Jesus accompanied by multi-layered rock and classical arrangements. Subsequent to the success and popularity of the album, it was no surprise when it finally opened on Broadway in 1971. A massive production, the story documented a side of Jesus and his apostles in a way not mentioned in the Bible. It highlighted the inner conflicts faced by the characters and offered a free interpretation of the psychology of them all, with a large part of the plot focusing on the character of Judas, depicted as a tragic figure who broils with dissatisfaction at the overt popularity and celebrity status of Jesus among his followers and fears that he leads them all towards persecution and eventual destruction by the Romans. The story also refers to Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, with her increased emotional attachment to him and her own inner conflicts, adding to Judas’ already strained faith in the path that has been chosen for him and his fellow disciples. Having been both praised as a theatrical masterpiece and condemned by religious rights groups at the time, the story promises to take you through quite an emotional rollercoaster but as Tim Rice explained when questioned about the controversy: “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” This is the underlying theme within the story; Jesus Christ Superstar will make you take a fresh look at Christ as the “man” he was rather than the “figure” he was portrayed as. Sri Lanka’s very own Workshop Players will be doing their own revival of the Broadway classic directed by Jerome de Silva, from 4 to 13 October at the Lionel Wendt. As the man in charge of the music Sanith de S. Wijeyeratne explained, it’s been quite a longstanding dream of the Workshop Players to stage it in the almost 20-year history of the theatre company. Enthusiasm for the production among the largely young cast, he added, has been very encouraging, given the fact that the directors were not expecting the casting calls to garner such a huge response. “What surprised us was the fact that most of the young people that showed up, auditioned for the parts by actually singing the songs. I wasn’t expecting any of them to know much about Jesus Christ Superstar but they have and it’s going to be quite a performance,” Sanith added. Given the Workshop Players’ past experience putting on massive productions such as ‘Cats,’ ‘Evita’ and ‘The Lion King’ in the past to much critical acclaim, Jesus Christ Superstar should be one most definitely worth watching for two reasons alone: the story’s underlying message and for the opportunity to experience Colombo’s young vocal talent taking on the most well-known rock opera in history.