The Vienna Youth Players have interpreted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash Broadway musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with an era twist. Turning its back on the traditional biblical setting of the play, the VYP has set its upcoming production as a 1920s period-piece in a nod to the timelessness of the story’s essence of friendship, steadfastness, and betrayal.
“The music, as a rock opera, was fun and challenging,” said VYP director Babs Dyer. “Without the community center to use, I knew we had to pick a show with minimal sets and technical requirements. And this play is any time, any place.”
Unlike most plays that are developed as a narrative, “Jesus Christ Superstar” began its life as a rock opera album, converting into a musical a year after its conception in 1970. It premiered on Broadway as a musical with no speaking parts in 1971.
The rock opera traces the last week of Christ’s life, interpreted loosely from the Gospels. Christ arrives in Jerusalem, is betrayed by his friend and apostle Judas, and is crucified. It is a study of relationships set to song.
Thirty-four kids, aged 8 to 18, make up the cast. Some of the actors and actresses are repeat VYP participants. Most come from the Vienna/Oakton/Fairfax area. All are enthusiastic about the production.
“I always wanted to play Jesus; it’s the one role that was really important,” said Madison High School senior Neal Going, playing Jesus Christ. “It’s a challenge because we’re doing it in a modern era, everyone coming in with a preconceived idea of what Jesus looked like and what he was like. My biggest goal is to get the audience onboard with our interpretation of the show in general.”
If the costumes are reminiscent of the roaring 20s with short dresses and “bad” guys, that is intentional because the bad guys betrayed Christ and crucified him. Mary Magdalene is played tenderly by Heather Colbert, a Madison high school sophomore. “If you look past her occupation (prostitute), she’s pretty sweet,” said Colbert. “I love singing to Jesus, especially “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Colbert calls it “interesting” about her character because Mary Magdalene has been played a lot of ways. Colbert wants to make the role her own.
Madison sophomore Caroline Salwen plays an apostle, a role she relishes. “I really like how our group of apostles are friends,” said Salwen. “I like how they are following Jesus. It’s cool being in his close group, being one of his best friends.”
The more-modern interpretation makes it more relatable to people, Salwen said.
Luke Hemmingson, a Marshall High School senior who plays Judas, said his character is not the kind of role he gets to play often --- playing the “bad guy.”
“Not only is the music challenging, but it is beautifully written,” said Hemmingson.
Dyer said that the “script” VYP bought is a collection of music and the story takes shape from the music, rather than the music coming out of the narrative. The story line has no time boundaries.
“It’s interesting because it’s every time, and, no time,” said Going. “Even if Jesus were to come today, we would end up killing him.”