By Josette Keelor
EDINBURG -- At Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg, the cast and crew of one of Broadway's most acclaimed musicals intend a show unlike any they've performed in quite some time -- one they hope will make an impact on audiences.
According to Director Lori Staley, performances of "Jesus Christ Superstar," by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, beginning March 7, are intentionally scheduled for the first three weeks in the Christian season of Lent, which starts Wednesday and counts down 6 1/2 weeks until Easter Sunday.
In its simplest terms, the musical tells of Jesus' quick rise to fame, subsequent betrayal by the apostle Judas Iscariot and his public murder. Staley said seeing the show when she was younger helped her better understand the story's characters. In particular, it makes the roles of Judas and Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judaea, more sympathetic.
"[It] helped me to see they weren't the bad guys," Staley said. "They just had no choice."
She and some of the cast said the musical is told from the point of view of Judas, whose betrayal of Jesus to the Roman authorities led to his arrest.
Performing as Judas, Alan Wiecking said he was originally cast as another apostle but had the opportunity to audition again after the other actor playing Judas dropped out.
"This has been probably the most awesome show I've been a part of," said Wiecking, who has performed in other musicals at Theatre Shenandoah as Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man" and Max Detweiler in "The Sound of Music."
Though in recent years the theater has steered away from big show-stoppers, co-owner Sue Horne said musicals make up a big part of its past.
Since the theater group moved in 2011 to its current location on Center Street, she said they have chosen a series of smaller, less expensive plays to save for something as large as "Superstar."
The rights to Broadway musicals alone are up to $2,000, and she said unlike many of the other shows they've offered since renovations were completed in 2012, this one required costumes.
"So we really need a big audience to pull all that money back," she said. Fortunately, she said, "we've got a superb cast."
Coty Clowers plays Jesus and Liza Coffman portrays Mary Magdalene, roles that sparked controversy after the musical's original release in the '70s.
According to Coffman, Mary is "keyed into Jesus' message of love," but it's not the kind of relationship Mary is used to.
"She was a woman at least with a history of physical relationships with men," Coffman said, "and her relationship with Jesus is different because she says, 'I don't know how to love him.'"
It's a line Wiecking's Judas repeats later when the show spotlights the reasoning behind his betrayal of Jesus.
Clowers admitted he never heard of this show before auditioning to portray Jesus, and just thinking about playing Jesus made him declare speechlessness.
But then he added, "It's a big role to live up to."
Theatre Shenandoah, at 107 Center St., Edinburg, will perform "Jesus Christ Superstar" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 7-22. Tickets, $15 for adults and $12 for youth and seniors, are available at The Edinburg Mill, from cast members or online through PayPal at www.theatreshenandoah.org. For more information, call 540-984-3972.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com