Jesus rocks – that’s the belief of the director of the first production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical to be staged in Scarborough.
Forget Rome and robes – the YMCA Production version is set in the 21st century music industry with the Messiah and his followers a parallel of Justin Bieber and his Bielibers.
“People will recognise the same characters and storyline but we have chosen to give the production a more contemporary feel,” said Duncan Lewis, who has previously stage-managed Jesus Christ Superstar.
“There is a part of today’s music industry that seems to produce artists who reach celebrity status overnight. Coupled with their respective entourage and followers, these are very contemporary trends that young people can recognise today and those tie in well with the telling of Jesus’ story,” said Duncan.
“Jesus in the musical has an increasingly large following and this raises questions, doubts and fears among the establishment – in our version music industry moguls – who ask who is this young upcoming rock star blazing a trail? Who does he think he is?”
Duncan has deliberately avoided the religious route with the rock opera. “When putting on any production you have to consider the audience it will be performed to, the company you are working with and the space the show will be performed in.
“With these things in mind, I am working with a predominantly young cast, putting on a show for a modern-day audience in a 200-seater venue.
“I hope this version will be accessible and particularly to younger people because primarily that is what the YMCA mission is all about – supporting young people in a variety of ways including theatre.”
Duncan has assembled a cast of 22 – aged between 14 and 50-plus – and a seven-piece band with musical director Harry Bullen, a student at the Westwood campus of Yorkshire Coast College and a member of three-piece Except for Access who gig in pubs across town. The band will be on stage as an integral part of the show.
All those involved are amateurs. This includes Damon Hotchin from the Stephen Joseph Theatre Outreach adult acting group who is playing Jesus. Scalby School pupil Gillian Marshall will play Mary Magdalene. The oldest member of the cast is Dave Blaker, of Scarborough. He is playing Pontius Pilate. But before that he is playing Prospero in rock musical Return to the Forbidden Planet with Whitby Area Musical Theatre Company. This is at Whitby Pavilion from Wednesday March 26 to Saturday March 29.
And after Jesus Christ Superstar he will be appearing in the lead role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof for Scarborough Musicals. It runs at the YMCA, Scarborough, from Tuesday May 27 to Saturday May 31.
Other cast members have been drawn from local schools,Scarborough Sixth Form College and York College. Set and costume designers work part time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Existing YMCA volunteers are also involved in costume, technical and front-of-house roles.
Duncan said: “I wanted to make it a community production and was keen to get people involved with the YMCA who hitherto had not been connected with the organisation.”
By day Duncan, who lives in Scarborough and is married to Jaye, is a business advisor and has a background in theatre.
He was approached by YMCA executive director Steve Marsh to helm the project. Steve wanted a project for Easter and thought this most appropriate.
Duncan’s professional theatre career began in stage management and he was company stage manager with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 1985 to 1988.
Before that he worked at ARTTS International, near York, and has worked in regional theatres including the Royal Exchange, Manchester, Leicester Haymarket, York Theatre Royal and Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. He also ran London’s leading lunchtime group Good Luck Theatre Company.
“Scarborough is set for what is believed to be its first coming of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar,” said Duncan, “but it might not be what people expect.
“As far as we are aware, this is the first time Jesus Christ Superstar has been performed on a theatre stage in Scarborough. It is a challenging and ambitious production both from a musical and performance point of view and technically one of the biggest the YMCA has ever staged. But everyone involved is really relishing the task of providing something very special for Scarborough.
“I haven’t set out to tell the story from any particular angle but wanted simply to portray what happens to Jesus in the last seven days of his life from a very human perspective.
“The way we are handling it may not be what some people expect, but I firmly believe that theatre has a responsibility to make people think and question the themes raised.”
Duncan and the cast will be hosting a talk-back session during the run of Jesus Christ Superstar.
It runs at the YMCA St Thomas Street, Scarborough, from Thursday April 10 to Saturday April 12, daily at 7.30pm, and from Monday April 14 to Thursday 16, daily at 7.30pm.
The performance on Sunday April 13 is at 2pm