Thursday, December 22, 2011

CASTING: Jesus Christ Superstar

Just as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in a few days comes the announcement of the cast of the 2012 Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical that celebrates his last days.  After several revivals of this 1971 rock opera, the story as written has been told.  The solid score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is a given.  So now it really comes down to casting, design, concept and direction.

This revival, which begins previews at the Neil Simon Theatre on March 1, with an opening set for March 22, has already garnered much critical acclaim.  First, it opened to raves and several extensions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, and is now finishing an equally acclaimed run at La Jolla Playhouse.

Bringing this acclaimed staging to Broadway is a creative team with, collectively, an extensive and varied and award-winning resume.  The design team alone makes this theatre fan excited by the possibilities!  I mean the least experienced (Broadway credit-wise) is projection designer Sean Nieuwenhuis.  But look at those pictures!  Top notch stuff, so it seems.  Howell Binkley is doing the lighting.  He is currently represented on Broadway by Memphis and How to Succeed.  Along the way, he has earned 6 Tony Award nominations.  Among his other credits are In the Heights, Lombardi and his Tony-winning effort, Jersey Boys.  Then there are set designer Robert Brill, whose credits Broadway include Cabaret, The Story of My Life, Assassins, and Anna in the Tropics, and sound designer Scott Canyon Kennedy whose credits include Broadway's The Who's Tommy, Hairspray, Titanic, Jersey Boys, and most recently, his Tony nominated work on Catch Me If You Can, the most recent tenant at the Neil Simon Theatre.  Four time Tony nominee Paul Tazewell provides the costume designs, just as he did for Memphis, In the Heights, Lombardi and The Color Purple.

The directorial staff is equally acclaimed:  Rick Fox (Blood Brothers) is musical director, and Lisa Shriver is the choreographer.  Her previous credits include assisting in the choreography for The Producers, The Story of My Life, Amour, Titanic and Good Vibrations.  And heading the entire thing is director Des McAnuff, who, for just directing (not including producing credits) has 3 Tony nominations and 2 wins - for Big River and The Who's Tommy.  His most recent directorial efforts include the 2009 Guys and Dolls and the mega-hit Jersey Boys.

All of that is exciting enough - the potential is certainly there for a thrilling, fresh take on a classic.  But I am looking forward to see what Mr. McAnuff whips up with a cast made up of largely unknown (at least on Broadway) actors.  All I need to do is remember what he did with the same type of cast with The Who's Tommy, and I can't help but be optimistic!  I mean that show brought us, among others, Tony nominee Norm Lewis, and Tony winners Christian Hoff, Michael Cerveris and Alice Ripley.

Paul Nolan as Jesus 
Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene with Nolan  

The principal cast is made up of Paul Nolan as Jesus Christ, Josh Young as Judas Iscariot, Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene, Tom Hewitt (Dracula, Rocky Horror Show, The Lion King, Chicago) as Pontius Pilate, Bruce Dow (The Music Man, Jane Eyre) as King Herod, Marcus Nance (La Boheme) as Caiaphas and Aaron Walpole as Annas.  Nolan, Kennedy and Walpole will all be making their Broadway debut with Superstar.

Josh Young and the Ensemble of
Jesus Christ Superstar

The ensemble - in this production each with a Biblical name, including the female ensemble members - is made up of: Matt Alfano as Thaddeus, Mary Antonini as Elizabeth, Karen Burthwright as Ruth, Jacqueline Burtney as Mary (Martha’s Sister), Mark Cassius as Matthew, Ryan Gifford as Bartholomew, Kaylee Harwood as Sarah, Jeremy Kushnier as James the Lesser/Priest, Mike Nadajewski as Peter, Melissa O’Neil as Martha/Maid by the Fire, Laurin Padolina as Rachel, Katrina Reynolds as Esther, Jaz Sealey as Thomas, Jason Sermonia as John, Julius Sermonia as James, Lee Siegel as Simon Zealotes, Jonathan Winsby as Phillip, Sandy Winsby as Andrew, and Krista Leis and Matthew Rossoff as swings.  Seventeen of the twenty are making their Broadway debuts in Jesus Christ Superstar.  Only Mark Cassius (Ragtime - original production), Jeremy Kushnier (RENT, Footloose) and Julius Sermonia (Cats) have appeared on Broadway before.

I, for one, am excited to see this new, young cast bringing a terrific show to life under the care Broadway veterans at the top of their game!  How about you?

(Stratford production photos by David Hou)

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