(Above: Ben Sanders, center, plays Judas in Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”
By Randi Bjornstad
It’s back to the future for Actors Cabaret of Eugene, known affectionately as ACE, when the almost 38-year-old company does a reprise of the very first show it produced, opening on Sept. 15.
That would be the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and Joe Zingo and Jim Roberts, the guiding lights behind the the theater troupe, believe it’s “especially fitting that the first rock opera, created as a concept album at the end of the turbulent ’60s, should have at its center a social and political rebel.”
As the title suggests, Jesus experienced his meteoric rise in the public’s consciousness more than 2000 years ago, and while the hype in today’s celebrity-driven culture certainly can’t be equated to his importance to the world, the prevalence of celebrity “worship” clearly hasn’t diminished.
The premise of the show is based on the account in the Biblical gospels of the last week of Jesus’ life, starting with his arrival in Jerusalem with his dozen disciples and proceeding through the legal system to his conviction and crucifixion.
As the folks at Actors Cabaret carefully point out, via a Wikipedia entry, the play also “depicts political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not present in the Bible.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and Tim Rice provided the lyrics. The show had its Broadway debut in 1971, featuring no spoken dialogue in favor of every word being sung.
The plot focuses largely on Judas, who seemed to take exception to Jesus’ popularity and foreshadows the likelihood that his portrayal as the Son of God will end by threatening the powers-that-be in the Roman Empire, with drastic results for both Jesus and his followers.
Judas also disagrees with the degree to which Jesus places his confidence in the opinions of Mary Magdalene, whom the disciple considers a prostitute.
Pretty much what Judas fears and foresees comes true, with Jesus and his popularity running afoul of both Jewish and Roman leaders, and Judas casts the die for Jesus’ demise by betraying him with a kiss on the cheek to the Roman officials.
Those who know the New Testament story know what follows: Jesus’ trial, conviction and death on the cross, mourned by the remaining 11 apostles (and possibly Judas also) as well as his mother Mary and his faithful Mary Magdalene.
In the original Broadway production, Jeff Fenholt starred as Jesus, with Ben Vereen as Judas. It ran for 711 performances, but the New York Times reviewed it as over-hyped. The musical garnered five Tony nominations but didn’t win any. However, time has been much kinder to the the musical, which has seen many international productions, to high acclaim.
Michael Watkins directs the Actors Cabaret production, which includes 18 actors. Zingo is in charge of costumes, lighting and set design.
The cast includes Ben Sanders as Jesus, with Chad Lowe playing Judas and Ashley Apelzin as Mary Magdalene. Other featured actors are Sheldon Hall Christopher Ridgley, Anthony Krall, Donovan Seitzinger, Cody Mendonca and Ward Fairbairn.
Additional cast members are Tyler Blaser, Cameron Graham, Justin Hambright, Garrett Poncho, Rob Roberts, Rene Ragan, Celeste Rossetto Dickey, Beverly Starr, Maya Vagner and Ashlee Winkler.
As usual, ACE offers a dinner/brunch-and-theater or theater-only option, with entrees chosen at the time of ticket purchase. Dessert and beverages also are available during performances.
Jesus Christ Superstar
When: 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15-16, 22-23, 28-30 and Oct. 5-7; and 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1
Where: 996 Willamette St. in downtown Eugene
Tickets: $38.95 to $42.95 for meals and show, except $35.95 on Sept. 15-16; $16 to $27 dollars for show only; available at the box office, 541-683-4368, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or online at actorscabaret.org/