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Jesus for president

by Lenise Willis

Amid the current election’s mayhem of candidates, Theatre Alliance is highlighting one of the most famed, celebrated and rebellious social and political figures of all time—Jesus, in his role as a superstar. And just in time for Easter, too.

The production, Jesus Christ Superstar, was created at the end of the tempestuous 1960s as the first rock opera, and features Jesus’ rise to fame, in an almost celebrity-like fashion, until his final days and Judas’ ultimate betrayal. The show has been called emotionally intense, thought provoking, satirical, tender and stirring.

“I’m most excited about the music,” said Theatre Alliance director Jamie Lawson. “It’s incredibly driving, even the ballads, and it’s a rush to hear it every night. I wanted to do something for Easter, and this certainly fit the bill.”

Taking on the most intimidating role of all time—that of Jesus himself— is Stephen Howard, a new face to Theatre Alliance’s stage. “I am extremely honored and humbled to play Jesus amidst this exceptionally talented and dedicated cast,” Howard said. “Everyone is truly fantastic, and this show is an unforgettable experience that I deeply believe anyone would enjoy.”

Meanwhile, Troy Hurst, a familiar Theatre Alliance actor, has taken on the complicated role of Judas, and has gained new insight into the man through performing as his character.

“Being brought up in an overly religious home, I was taught that Judas was the ultimate bad guy, betrayer and traitor,” Hurst said. “Since embodying the character and understanding his point of view, there was something special about Judas that Jesus must have seen when he chose him to become one of his disciples—his inner circle, trusted 12.

“We know that Judas was the money man and I’ve come to realize that he has a big heart. He wanted the best for his people and saw Jesus as the perfect opportunity to help provide freedom from their captive situation. He was trying to achieve the greater good, not take down Jesus, but as we see, the story does not end well for either of them.”

Hurst added that he can relate to Judas—not something that the average person would be willing to admit. But, as Hurst notes, everyone has made a mistake with good intentions.

“We all find ourselves in situations where we want to do the right thing and we do not,” Hurst said. “We don’t speak up, we don’t act, we sell out. In spite of our convictions and beliefs, we are fallible humans.”

Lawson, himself, actually performed in the production twice before taking on the new role as director. Both times he was an apostle.

“I can’t sing well enough to be a Jesus or a Judas,” Lawson admitted with a laugh. “I loved the experience both times. When you get ‘in the moment’ of the story every night, it was very powerful, without fail. I suspect the same with the directing aspect of it.”

“One definitely has more insight having been involved with the show,” Lawson added. “Familiarity with the material gives you more confidence with any production. I also turned to the original source material (the Bible) for staging ideas.”

As for the set design, Lawson said that all shows, including this one, aren’t without challenges. “As the show was originally a rock opera and not a ‘show,’ per se, it gives the designers some room for interpretation, and that is a perk with JCS,” Lawson said. “It’s unlike staging The King and I or The Music Man, for example, which have very specific set dictations.” Lawson said the set design is a creative interpretation, but he doesn’t want to reveal any of the show’s surprises or secrets. “This show has it all: great cast, music, choreography, and theme for the upcoming Easter season,” Hurst said about what the audience can expect. “Each rehearsal, I’m blown away by the incredible talent and dedication of the cast, to tell the greatest story ever told with a unique Theatre Alliance twist!” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.

WANNA go?

Theatre Alliance performs Jesus Christ Superstar March 18-April 3 at its theatre located at 1047 Northwest Blvd., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $18 for adults; $16 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information visit wstheatrealliance.org, call the box office at 723-7777, or call Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006.

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