By DIANE SPEER
News Lifestyles Editor
Though he is a relative veteran now at Thunder Bay Theatre, actor LeShawn Bell considers his current role the hardest one he's ever tackled.
He is, after all, playing Jesus in the 1970s pop culture classic about the Easter story known as "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"It's a huge undertaking. It's the most challenging, but also the most rewarding role I've ever done," said Bell. "I approached the role in a human, sincere way, and in the way I feel Jesus would have been, and especially in modern times."
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chris Rice first introduced their modernized take on the gospel story, they rocked the world. Many embraced their creation because of its the fresh vision and memorable rock/pop symphonic score, while others bristled at their controversial depiction of the final week of Christ's life on earth.
Thunder Bay Theatre
'Jesus Christ Superstar'
March 29-30, April 4-7
and April 11-14
7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday
2 p.m., Sunday
Box office: 354-2267
TBT actors will perform songs
from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
- Good Friday, noon-3 p.m., Trinity
- April 7, 10 a.m., First Congregational
TBT opted to stay true to the production's story and music, but to modernize things even further by casting several women as the traditional male characters of Judas and Herod as well as some of the other disciples.
"We wanted to modernize it," said TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez. "Webber never wrote it as any disrespect to any social or secular group. He wrote it to modernize for younger people the story of Christ. With his music and Tim Rice's words, you get the story."
Rodriguez has been impressed with his cast of 18, that includes many younger performers who have been introduced to the show for the first time at TBT.
"I feel very fortunate with the cast being as dedicated to the project as they have been," Rodriguez said. "What a wonderful cast of people they are, and I wouldn't change a one of them."
Stepping into the pivotal role of Judas is core company member Suni Travis. The other 11 disciples of Jesus are played by Mackenzie Fountain, Travis Atkinson, Sandi Schmidt, Conor Larkin, Monica Smith, Mariah Purol, Yves Hayoz, Zachariah Clement, Morgan Gail, Beth Matzke and Rory Larkin.
High school student Caitlin Borke plays Mary Magdelene and TBT core company member Hannah Matzke appears as Herod. Rev. Bruce Michaud takes on the role of Caiaphas, while Brian Heldt is Annas. Appearing on stage as Pontius Pilate is Rodriguez, who has performed the show on four previous occasions.
For many, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is about the music, with its instantly recognizable songs like "King Herod's Song," "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Hosanna." Even so, Webber's score isn't easy to sing.
"The difficulty with doing a production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' I love the music and the dancing and the characters and the story, but the music is difficult," Rodriguez said.
He is pleased to have Dr. Greg Adamus serving as the musical director. All the singing is backed up by the TBT Disciple Band comprised of band leader Kris Yachcik, Conor Larkin, James Daoust, Randy Bouchard and Adamus.
Among favorite numbers in the show for Bell are "Gethsemane" and also "The Last Supper," which he performs with the character of Judas. Bell has been preparing for his latest TBT role for quite sometime by listening to the music daily and taking voice lessons.
"I've been listening to the music daily even during break, trying to know it backwards and forwards, and asking myself how am I going to approach this huge role," Bell said. "Will I convey it in a way that isn't offensive but at the same take makes people think?"
Another major factor of the show is choreography, handled by Lara Dunleavy Torres.
"Lara has become one of my favorite choreographers," Rodriguez said. "She gives herself to any project she does, and I mean 100 percent."
Costume design is by Matzke. Bell does double duty as properties master and Clement as production stage manager. On set construction were Hayoz, Heldt, Rory Larkin, Bill Matzke and the core company.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" opens on Good Friday and continues Saturday. Additional performances are slated for April 4-7 and April 11-14. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.