Scottdale group takes advantage of revived interest in 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
There's renewed interest this Easter season for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that retells the Bible's account of the last week of Jesus' life.
Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend will take on the title role in a live concert version of “Superstar” to be televised at 8 p.m. April 1 on NBC.
Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale will follow up with a production of its own April 5-8 directed by Ben Wren of Jeannette, with Will Dixon of Greensburg in the role of Jesus and Rori Aiello of Irwin portraying Mary Magdalene.
“There is no more compelling story to me than that of the biblical Jesus Christ and his sacrifice of becoming a man, suffering and dying for the sins of his children,” says Dixon, on his first rock opera production. “Bringing even a fraction of that amazing story of love and forgiveness to our community, especially at this time of Easter when we think on it most, seemed to be a cause worth taking up.”
The actor says he is both excited and humbled to be part of the story.
“I can never live up to the man from the Bible, so my goal has always been to do the role as much justice as I can,” he says. “I focus on the man part of Jesus and the suffering and sacrifice we can understand – the pain, the loss and the love.”
While this version of the story is fun, energetic, emotional and engaging, Dixon asks audience members to take a moment to consider the weight of the story while watching the performance.
Aiello is embracing her first production of “Superstar” as Mary Magdalene, a character that she says finds herself in a real identity struggle as “she's defined by her past, but is conflicted with her love for Jesus and his teachings.”
In addition to the powerful story told in the rock opera, Aiello says the music is exceptional – with Mary's solo, “I Don't Know How to Love Him” and Jesus' “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” among the most emotional vocal selections.
If theatergoers aren't already fans of traditional musical theater, “this might be the show that hooks you,” she says.
Wren's biggest challenge in directing the show is with balancing its contemporary style with its sacred subject matter.
“You could go to every ‘Superstar' show and see a completely different take on it. There is not a definitive way of presenting the show, so it is a completely blank canvas in terms of how to portray it,” the director says.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” was an annual tradition in Wren's home growing up, and he says “I can't tell you how many times I've sung through the music playing each character. It has sat atop the shows I've wanted to participate in and/or direct and I'm thrilled to get to do both with this production.”
He directed “The Fantasticks” last year at the Geyer, where he also performed in productions of “Catch Me If You Can” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Dixon's recent credits include performing in productions of “Catch Me If You Can,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Tarzan.” Aiello has acted in “Side Show” for Split Stage Productions and directed “Always ... Patsy Cline” for Apple Hill Playhouse.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.