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'Jesus Christ Superstar' is what's a-happening

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By Becca Owsley

The hit musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” takes the stage at Hardin County Playhouse this weekend.

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Actors in the production sat down to explain what the buzz is all about.

Bo Cecil directs the local presentation of this musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. He also plays Judas, the member of the inner circle who betrays Christ.

Cecil said the original production started as a rock concept album in the 1960s before becoming a Broadway musical in the 1970s.

“It seems like there’s always a production of ‘Superstar’ going on,” he said.

He said it is a musical that can appeal to a religious and secular audience. The story of any person rising to fame and how that can bring change is a timeless tale that relates to today’s audiences, he said.

Costumer Carrie Rhea took that a step further and organized clothing with today’s audience in mind. She wants it to look like the story happened on a modern college campus. She had the cast decide what job their character would have if it happened today and what they would look like.

She said this helps drive home the fact that the diverse group of people united in something they believed in.

Cecil said the rock music can be challenging. But in all musicals, he said, you want the music to tell the story and honor the story first.

Moira Taylor has been a fan of the musical all her life. Every Holy Thursday after her family got home from church, they listened to the soundtrack and she knew every word.

Even with that familiarity, she admits the music sometimes is difficult be­cause of the timing. It is written in 7/4 and 5/4 time.

When you recite a monologue in a play, there’s a leeway for mistakes and recovery. In a song, if you make a mistake, the music goes on without you and there’s not much room for error.

Being part of the ensemble that represents the masses of Jesus’ followers gives her a fresh perspective. They first think Jesus is the coolest thing on the planet, she said, until people contradict him and finally the group turns on him.

“To be one of those people who move from praising Jesus to yelling, ‘Crucify him’ is pretty powerful,” Taylor said, adding as a character she has to decide why she would do that.

Like Taylor, Claire Allen is in the ensemble and grew up loving the musical. Her mom used to play the music on the piano and when she was a young teen.

“I became slightly obsessed with it,” she said.

Being part of the masses, she thinks it’s crazy how the crowds go from loving Jesus to wanting him to die in a matter of a week. She said the music during the scene at the cross always moves her.

Andy Dobson-Frueh takes on the task of portraying Jesus.

His first experience with musicals was another Webber piece, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Although “Superstar” wasn’t on his radar, when he heard the music, he liked it.

Even though he’s personally stepped away from religion for a while, he said playing this part has made him think. Calling it a religious experience, he said, is overstepping it.

“But you can’t sing a song like ‘Gethsemane’ and walk in with crowds praising you and 45 minutes later condemning you to die,” he said. “I think it awakens things in people that might be asleep.”

Ron Blair plays Herod and said the emotional story is well suited to rock music. He said Cecil always tells actors in musicals that a character gets so emotional they have to sing about it.

“I think this story lends itself to that sort of powerful emotion. You have to sing it and rock is perfect for it,” Blair said.

Kristina Marinos, who portrays Mary Magdalene, saw the movie version at age 5. Her grandmother took her thinking it was a religious film and didn’t know it was going to have a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

“But the music just grabbed me,” she said.

From that moment on, she wanted to be in a production. She said she relates to Mary, not in the aspect of her job, but her evolution as a person and how through Jesus’ help, she was transformed into a better person.

For Marinos, the story transcends time and anyone can relate to it regardless of faith.

Frueh said “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a show that asks for an open mind — religious or not — and asks to not judge the story but to just take what’s there.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

IF YOU GO

The Hardin County Playhouse presents “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Plum Alley Theater in the Historic State The­a­ter Complex at 7 p.m. Friday, Satur­day and Aug. 14-16, and at 3 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 17.

Tickets are $18 for general admission or $15 for seniors, students, military and groups of 10 or more.

For information or tickets, call 270-351-0577.