The Augusta Players had planned on closing its season with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but when rights for the musical fell through, the organization decided to hold casting calls for a messiah instead of a madame.
The Players' season will now conclude with Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera about the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. The production opens tonight at the Imperial Theatre.
"We knew that Superstar is a big, well-known show," said Augusta Players artistic director Richard Justice. "And with our spring shows, we have to be careful. Because we don't do school shows in the spring, we have to make sure we do something with mass appeal, something adults will come to."
The play was originally produced as an album and later adapted for the stage. It incorporates rock music and Broadway-style show tunes into a period-bending operatic narrative that looks at the very human triangle of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene.
"It's a challenge because you don't have dialogue to carry the story along. It's all done with music. The actors have to emote while they sing, and the music itself is very difficult. It's nothing to have people singing in two different keys at the same time. Andrew Lloyd Webber was way out there with this one."
For the actors, much of the challenge has been breathing some of their own personalities and sensibilities into the characters. Eddie Renew, who plays Jesus, said there is a real sense of responsibility that comes with playing the role.
"There is a lot of pressure," he admitted. "You just can't play Jesus as something completely off the wall. There is a kind of standard you have to adhere to. But at the same time, you have to be able to put a little bit of yourself in every role you play."
Jacob Patteson, who plays Judas, said that the human struggles keep the musical fresh.
"You just can't deny the story," he said. "This can speak to anyone, either spiritually or as a simple story about a guy named Jesus. It speaks to problems people can have at any time, with anybody."
Eleanor Noegel plays Mary Magdalene, a character that personifies the play's themes of redemption and human frailty. Ms. Noegel said those themes, coupled with the music, are what carry the play for her.
"Jesus was one of the most popular men to walk the planet," she said. "It's like the title says - he was a superstar. But it's the music that makes the show. It's what makes this story so emotional, so true, no matter what your beliefs are."
WHAT: Jesus Christ Superstar, presented by the Augusta Players
WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
ADMISSION: $10-$30. Call 826-4707
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.