On Stage Plus: Jesus Christ Superstar comes to Kimmel

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Jack Hopewell as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar

Hershey High School is a four-year high school in Dauphin County – a public school that is consistently ranked as one of the top public schools in the state of Pennsylvania.

The school also has the distinction of being the alma mater of two highly regarded young talents in the world of sports and entertainment – Kodiak Thompson and Christian Pulisic.

Pulisic, a soccer player on the United States National Team, has established himself as one of the key young American players in Europe. He currently plies his trade in the Premiership with London-based Chelsea F.C.

He and Thompson are a year apart in age.

Thompson, who earned a BFA in Musical Theater at Temple University, is one of the rising stars in the American theater world. He is currently one of the main characters in the National Tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” will visit Philadelphia for a six-day run at the Miller Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus) as part of the Kimmel Cultural Campus current Broadway season. The show will open on May 2 and run through May 7 at the venerable Center City theater.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a sung-through rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Loosely based on the gospel’s accounts of the Passion of Christ, the work interprets the psychology of Jesus and other characters, with much of the plot centered on Judas, who is dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples.

Contemporary attitudes, sensibilities and slang pervade the rock opera’s lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly contain many intentional anachronisms.

Kodiak Thompson

Initially unable to get backing for a stage production, the composers released it as a concept album, the success of which led to the show’s Broadway on-stage debut in 1971. In 1973, “Jesus Christ Superstar” was one of the year’s most popular movies. By 1980, the musical had grossed more than $237 million worldwide.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is an iconic musical phenomenon with a world-wide fan base. In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, a new mesmerizing production comes to North America.

Originally staged by London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and helmed by the acclaimed director Timothy Sheader (Crazy for You, Into the Woods) and award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie (King Kong, Strictly Ballroom), this production won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival garnering unprecedented reviews and accolades.

Appealing to both theater audiences and concert music fans, this production pays tribute to the historic 1971 Billboard Album of the Year while creating a modern, theatrical world that is uniquely fresh and inspiring.

The show is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas. Reflecting the rock roots that defined a generation, the legendary score includes “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” “Gethsemane” and “Superstar.”

This production is the debut National Tour for Thompson, who has been singing and dancing since he was very young.

“I had a lot of energy as a kid and sports wasn’t the answer,” said Thompson, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“Cory Wilkerson was instrumental in getting me started in theater. She’s a theater educator – and an actor herself. Through her, I got the role of Tiny Tim in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Whitaker Theater in Harrisburg.

“I did six seasons of the show at the theater in Harrisburg. It weas my first professional gig. I got paid for acting when I was six.

“It was enchanting – the whole community of theater and being able to express myself onstage. I auditioned for more regional shows.

“I got into opera as a child and played Amahl in ‘The Night Visitors.’ I did voice lessons and then dance lessons when I was eight. When I finished high school, I decided to pursue a BFA in Musical Theater at Temple University. I’ve been working professionally ever since.”

Then came “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“I had never seen the show when I first auditioned,” said Thompson. “There were seven rounds of auditions – so many callbacks. A lot of us were picked for the exact role we’re doing.

“I started researching by watching old movies – all the way back to Ted Neely and Yvonne Elliman. I thought the music was incredible.”

Thompson plays the role of Annas. It is a villainous role.

Annas appears in the gospels and passion plays as a high priest before whom Jesus is brought for judgment, prior to being brought before Pontius Pilate.

A review of Annas’ four main songs shows the darkness – “This Jesus Must Die,” “Damned for All Time / Blood Money,” “The Arrest,” and “Judas’ Death.”

“I like that I get to advance the plot onstage,” said Thompson. “Judas and I are portrayed as antagonists.”

Video link for “Jesus Christ Superstar” — https://youtu.be/MjjqhRmjs-Q.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” will run from May 2-7 at the Miller Theater. Ticket prices start at $40.

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