Jesus Christ Superstar gets a modern makeover
Story by Noah Diaz
The Omaha Community Playhouse has given Jesus Christ Superstar a makeover. The 1970 musical from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber will forgo its usual robes and sandals in favor of business suits and Converse. Director and choreographer Kimberly Faith Hickman, known for work on such Tony Award-winning Broadway shows as Clybourne Park (assistant director to Pam McKinnon) and The Assembled Parties (assistant director to Lynne Meadow), answered a few questions about the upcoming production. What's your relationship with Jesus Christ Superstar? Have you worked on it before? This is my first time working on Jesus Christ Superstar. I knew many of the songs already, but somehow I have never had the opportunity to work on the show prior to now. What aspects of the musical speak to you? I really love these characters, particularly Judas and Pilate (I know, I know...the "bad" guys!) I have always been drawn to characters whose life choices aren't always similar to my own. I welcome any opportunity to learn what makes a person tick. I think this musical does a fantastic job of exploring not only Jesus, but also Judas and Pilate. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Why did Pilate ultimately go along with the decision to crucify Christ? I also love that this musical explores the idea of purpose. What are we put here on Earth to do? Will we accomplish it? With Jesus Christ Superstar, we get to explore answers to those questions.
What inspired the modern take? Many theatres are starting to approach this story through a modern lens. It makes the story more accessible for today's audiences. The themes of this story are absolutely timeless: love, hope, forgiveness, betrayal, jealousy and most of all, purpose. All of these characters ask themselves, “How will I be remembered when I am gone?" We all ask ourselves that question at some point in our lives. There are fragments of these characters that can be found within ourselves if we look close enough. How have rehearsals been? Any interesting stories and/or discoveries with the cast? Rehearsals have been a blast. The talent in this show is unbelievable. There are some faces in our show that will be familiar to OCP audience members and there are many new faces as well. What continues to astound me is the age range of our actors. Our youngest cast member is 13. Our oldest cast member is 63. That alone is a testament to the power and popularity of this musical and how it has maintained its relevancy for over 40 years.
What key elements have gone into the new retelling? The costume and set design were the key factors to approaching this in a contemporary way. Lydia Dawson (costume designer), Jim Othuse (scenic and lighting designer) and I spent a lot of time looking at photographs that reflected the political landscape of the last 10 years. We combed through images of cities where various rallies took place and these provided a lot of inspiration for our staging of Jesus Christ Superstar. Similar to our politicians of today, King Herod and Pilate are wearing suits. Similar to our activists of today, Jesus is a guy in a t-shirt, jeans and Converse sneakers. We wanted this production to look like the world we are living in now. How has the new spin influenced the way you've approached the text and music? Though the characters do not look as if they are living in a Biblical time, we haven't changed the lyrics or music in any way. Finding modern day parallels to the stories in the Bible has been quite interesting, and incorporating modern day behavior (use of cell phones and technology for example) has been very exciting. Anyone and everyone can be a celebrity these days. We are living in an age of social media where we "share" everything that we do whether it is through a photo, video or status update. As we have rehearsed with this modern day approach in mind, we discovered that while many things have changed since the time of Christ, many things also remain the same. How do you think the audience will react to the departure from the classic 1970s-era depiction of JCS? I think it may surprise some people. There may be expectations of Jesus having long hair and wearing a white tunic. Instead he has short hair and wears blue jeans. But once they get past the visual surprise, I think they will find that the story, the purity of these characters and this amazing rock score remains fully intact. I can't wait for the work of this amazing cast and production team to be introduced to audiences. You can see the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, running March 6–April 4, 2015 (no performance on Easter, April 5); Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.