‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ set to open nationwide tour at Bass Concert Hall
In 2014, the British newspaper The Guardian published an article about the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in which the writer was of the opinion that Judas, “like the devil, has all the best tunes”. Whether true or not, the show presents something like a Judas view of the last days of Jesus’ life, leading up to the crucifixion. Austin is the first leg of the nationwide tour of what’s billed as the 50th anniversary production (well, almost; the original Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice double album rock opera was released in 1970), opening on Tuesday and playing until October 13 at the Bass Concert Hall. This is the same creative team that produced ‘Superstar’ to great acclaim at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theater in 2016.
James Delisco Beeks, who plays Judas in the touring company, is a seasoned performer who performed the role previously, in 2006 at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly, Mass. He also recounts playing Simon and doubling for Judas, in a production of “Superstar” at the Austin Music Theater; “I think it was 2005,” he says.
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When “Superstar” first came out, profanity protests were thrown at the show from some quarters, but that hasn’t been the case for quite a while. “It’s one of the most remade musicals in high schools today and community theaters,” says Beeks. “It really is a beloved piece; the music alone, all the influences from the Who to the Beatles, the great artists of the 60s and 70s. All of those influences are there and you can’t deny the driving force within them.
Beeks describes the production as a reimagined concept taking inspiration from the original album.
“The intent to emulate that is what we’re looking for,” he says. “Plus the dancing is amazing. I would say it’s like a ballet told through rock opera.
“The choreography is really amazing. It’s like (you can) put on earplugs and watch the ensemble tell the story through dance. It’s pretty amazing, the endurance they have to do for 90 minutes. People will leave inspired.
Contrary to the conventional biblical view of Judas as one of scripture’s great villains, “Superstar” doesn’t see Judas that way, and neither does Beeks. Discussing his research for the role, the actor mentions the Gospel of Judas, a non-canonical Gnostic Christian text discovered in the 20th century (google Gospel of Judas if you’re intrigued).
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“It gave a different perspective on Judas,” he says. “Judas was one of (Jesus’) favorite disciples and he did what he had to do. When I studied the character you can see there’s a bias – the Bible was written by men, there’s a human bias in there, but Judas had a nuanced story to tell and I wanted to tell this story. He had to do what he had to do, otherwise (Jesus’) plan of salvation would not have been fulfilled.
In the end, of course, “Superstar” is entertainment, a musical diversion, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say.
“Oh yes. It leaves the questioning,” Beeks says. “I live by the mantra of ‘questioning everything.’ People come out asking questions, it’s just a perspective because you feel for the guy.
You could say that we all have our part to play in the grand design.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
When: 8 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Or: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive.
Cost: $45 to $150.