2nd Flight Productions' performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" rocks.
"The entire cast and crew for this production is absolutely phenomenal," said director and producer Shannon Khatcheressian, who also teaches drama at Chantilly High. "I'm really excited about the exposure 2nd Flight will receive after people see this show and realize the amazing amount of talent we have at the community-theater level."
FEATURING A cast and crew of 50, Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera bursts upon the stage Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Sept. 16, 17, 18, and Sept. 23, 24, 25, at the Cramer Center in Old Town Manassas. Show times are 8 p.m., except for the Sunday, 2 p.m., matinees.
Purchase tickets at the door, at www.2ndflightproductions.com or by calling 703-927-5438. Friday and Saturday admission is $15, and Sundays, $12. For more information or directions, see the Web site or call 703-927-5438.
The story chronicles the last seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as seen through the eyes of his disciple Judas, who's become disillusioned with the entire movement.
"It's a popular rock opera, but we took more of a modern angle because many of today's events can be traced back into the Bible stories, so people can relate to them," said Khatcheressian. "The audience will find it interesting how people today are experiencing the same type of emotions and turmoil that people have gone through over the years."
THEY'VE BEEN rehearsing since the end of June, and Khatcheressian said everything's been going "fantastic." She's also impressed how everyone in the show works at their jobs all day and then rehearses, three hours each weeknight and six hours on Saturdays. "That amount of dedication and love for the arts is truly inspiring to me," she said.
There are no speaking parts; the entire rock-opera is sung. "The music tells an awesome story and keeps your feet tapping, at the same time," said Khatcheressian. "And we have a pit orchestra of nine. We've hired professional musicians, conducted by Robert Kraig."
She also praised head technician Kevin King of Fairfax, a 2004 Virginia Tech grad who designed the sets, sound and lighting and led the construction team. He's having the actors and dancers perform on various levels and platforms on stage for dramatic impact and to enhance the emotion of the storyline.
"'Jesus Christ Superstar' was written to be set in the 1970s," said King, 25. "But we're putting it in an abandoned warehouse where there's a rock concert in more modern times. There'll be red and blue colors like at a rock concert, crowd lights and light flashes at the crescendos of the music. I think people are really going to like it."
This show is often set in Biblical times but, said King, "I saw it [done that way] in the West End of London, a few years ago, and I think our performance is edgier and more entertaining, more intense and lots more fun. And we have a darker design concept for the costumes and lighting to get more drama." Besides that, he said, "These guys have wonderful voices, and I'm looking forward to seeing it all come together."
Ryan Khatcheressian, Shannon's husband, plays the role of Jesus. "I've been doing theater since high school and got hooked," said Khatcheressian, of Centreville's Marleigh Downs community. "I continued at Virginia Tech and met the founding members of this theater company."
It's also a real family affair for him, since his older brother Greg is also in the show, playing one of the chief priests who's against Jesus and his followers. "It's kinda neat to be onstage with my brother, at the same time," said Ryan Khatcheressian. "He plays such an evil character, but he's really a nice guy."
Khatcheressian says playing Jesus is demanding vocally and a real challenge. "It's one of those dream roles that you just can't pass on," he said. "It's probably the biggest role I'll ever play, because of who he is. And in this show, he's portrayed more as a man than a God, so it shows more of his human qualities."
He noted, as well, that via Tim Rice's lyrics, "You get into Jesus' thoughts and realize that — although he knows it's his fate — deep down, he's really afraid."
THE TOUGHEST thing about his role, he said, is the vocal range required. "It's almost like vocal gymnastics — which makes it even more fun for me," said Khatcheressian. "I'm hitting notes not usually written for music theater, and it's more rock than anything else."
His favorite song is "Gethesamne," where Jesus talks to his father. "Jesus says, 'If this is my fate, my destiny, I'll do it for You,'" said Khatcheressian. "He realizes Judas has betrayed him and the end is in sight, so it's a very powerful moment."
He's also pleased that this part is different than anything he's ever done before. "Usually, I'm the villain, so this is lighter," he said. "But it gets soul-searching, and I have to go into the pit of my stomach to get that fear and anxiety out, so that's what makes it such a fun role. This show is more intense than anything we've done before — visually and vocally — and the cast has such diverse backgrounds. And put on stage, it's just something really special."
Evan Shyer, a 2005 GWU grad with a degree in vocal performance, portrays Judas. It's his first show with 2nd Flight, and he loves his role: "It's extremely challenging vocally, and the character is multi-dimensional and complex."
"I think Judas isn't a villain, at all," he said. "He's partially driven by a force he doesn't understand, and he has a lot of different feelings about it — especially frustration and anger. And from that, you see the conflict within him, the sadness and Judas' belief in Jesus. He admires Jesus and is his friend and confidant. But he sees that something is going wrong."
Shyer said Judas feels compelled to have people not misunderstand Jesus. "But they are, and he feels he has to do something about it," he said. "Judas was always Jesus' right-hand man, and that's why he's having such a problem 'selling out' Jesus. And that's what tears Judas apart and leads him to kill himself. He can't handle what he did and that it led Jesus to die the way he did."
The most difficult part about his role, said Shyer, is "giving myself over to the emotion of the character, night in and night out, and letting my own emotions get involved and break down with the character in the show." As for the production as a whole, he said, "I really think it's going to look good and sound great, and it's all coming together really nicely."
Playing Mary Magdalene is Molly Hicks-Wilmesherr of Sterling, and this is her second performance with 2nd Flight Productions. She's a 2000 graduate of the Peabody Conservatory with a bachelors in music in vocal performance.
"I WAS really excited to do this role because of all this controversy in 'The Da Vinci Code' about who Mary Magdalene was and what her relationship really was with Jesus," she explained. "So she's a household name, as people are discussing it."
Hicks-Wilmesherr said Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice originally wrote this musical to show Judas' point of view. And to show that Mary Magdalene's role may be played in different ways, this production portrays her as Jesus' partner and mate.
"I think it's easier for people to connect with [this show] because of the modern dress and setting," said Hicks-Wilmesherr. "I think I'm the first Mary Magdalene in blue jeans. And they can think of Jesus also as a man with human emotions and identify with him on a human level."
She said the toughest part of her role is "deciding whether or not my character honestly believed he was the son of God or was just in love with him. I don't think I've decided, yet. And I want to get it across to the audience that Mary Magdalene was a real person who fell in love."
Hicks-Wilmesherr said this role is also more difficult vocally than any of the other operas in which she's sung. "There's a lot more belting-out because so many emotions are sung in this. And it's been a pleasure to listen to Evan and Ryan sing in practice, every single night. Our Judas and Jesus are phenomenal."
The best part, she said, is the fact that she never gets tired of any of the music. "I love every aspect of this musical and think it's the best one Andrew Lloyd Webber ever wrote," said Hicks-Wilmesherr. "The music is very original and flows together, and I love the pure passion of every character in this show."
As for the audience, she said, "I hope they can open their minds and see it as a piece of art. And I think they'll be astounded by the talent of the actors on the stage, the scenery and the set, and they'll have two hours of immense entertainment."