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Leap of faith: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ looks forward by going back to the beginning

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 14, 2019

Aaron LaVigne knows something about working through a long process.

For five months, he auditioned for the title role in the 50th anniversary national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He sent in videos from sea, as he was entertaining passengers on a cruise line. He was busy remodeling a 120-year-old house in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The coincidence is not lost on him that he was undertaking carpentry work while auditioning to portray the carpenter of Nazareth. “It was a crazy time, and now I have this awesome job playing this iconic role,” he said.

It’s been part of an effort to bring Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s classic 1971 musical to audiences in the era of the internet and social media.

It’s not that far a leap, truthfully. In telling their version of Christ’s final week leading up to the Crucifixion, Lloyd Weber and Rice imagined Jesus as a rock star, a man who gained immeasurable fame and who paid the ultimate price. It’s the kind of theme that continues to resonate today.

To that end, this production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” looks more like the 2018 version starring John Legend that aired on NBC than, say, the 1973 movie adaptation.

It’s very industrial, with choreography he describes as “super athletic.” The lighting is dramatic, and the costumes blend modern styles with what seems more applicable to biblical times. Jesus wears a manbun.

Even so, the show does harken back to its roots. “Jesus Christ Superstar” was created as a concept album and was performed in a concert format before it was re-created for Broadway.

So this latest edition, directed by Timothy Sheader, is “much more of a gig feel, a concert feel,” LaVigne said. He calls it an homage to that original record that had sold more than 7 million copies by 1983.

“We’ve basically lifted the orchestrations from the original brown album. It’s almost like putting a needle on a record player, and you’re starting that record from start to finish. And that’s what you’re going to get, at least musically, in this production.”

The show portrays Jesus as a revolutionary, teacher and great orator, LaVigne said. He’s also a guitar-slinger. “Jesus is a musician, so part of my track is I’m a singer-songwriter, and I carry a guitar on my back, and I eventually play that guitar.”

That part of the role was familiar, too. LaVigne has released a couple records and performed in New York with a band called Aaron LaVigne & the DownTown Crowd. His acting credits include the Broadway run of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and the 2006-07 national tour of “Rent,” which visited Spokane.

The story takes place as Jesus and his followers arrive in Jeresalem. He is at odds with his best friend, Judas Iscariot, who worries that he is getting too wrapped up in the trappings of fame. Judas also objects to his relationship with Mary Magdalene.

The show may have its roots in Christian theology, but LaVigne said the show offers more than a Bible lesson. “If you are coming for a cathartic religious experience, I think you can find it,” LaVigne said.

“If you’re coming for good storytelling, I think you can find it. If you’re looking for an amazing live rock opera experience with great lights, great singers and a great orchestra, you’re going to get that, too.”

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