“Jesus Christ Superstar” bursts upon the Westport stage this week.
The Broadway blockbuster is this season’s Staples Players Summer Theatre/Westport Continuing Education show.
Following in the tradition of “Rent” and “Les Mis” — previous show-stoppers — the production will be memorable.
And — in keeping with directors David Roth and Kerry Long’s tradition — it will take the familiar play in an unfamiliar direction.
This “Jesus Christ” is set in the late 1960s. It was a time as tumultuous as Jesus’ own, with social and political tumult up the wazoo.
“Religious themes aside,” Roth says, “the story remains relevant because of its social commentary on celebrity worship, ultimate betrayal, and the passion and power of the human spirit.”
“The story of Jesus parallels, to some extent, that of Martin Luther King: preaching love and peace, not violence; loving your fellow man, ideas like that,” Long adds. “Non-violence was the essence of the flower power movement.”
Costumes and staging reflect the time period. The show begins with a violent protest that channels Kent State.
“The famous photo of the hippie sticking a flower in a gun barrel was the catalyst” for this production, Roth says. That image is recreated with Jesus in the opening scene.
Both Roth and Long are too young to remember the ’60s. Of course, their actors — nearly 50 very talented teenagers from Westport and beyond — are far younger. They were born in the 1990s.
To prepare, the directors showed them a History Channel documentary about the era. They also watched parts of “Hair.”
“It’s not exactly total immersion,” Long admits. “But we’ve talked extensively about the time period, and the parallels between the story of Jesus and his followers, and the tribes of hippies.”
The directors’ enthusiasm is palpable. Roth grew up listening to the album. Players performed the show the summer after Long’s senior year at Staples, fueling an “obsession” with it (and the music).
“It’s one of the few cast albums that David and I listen to even if we’re not working on the show,” Long said of her co-director (and husband).
“Jesus Christ Superstar” — which opens this Thursday night, continues Friday night and closes with 2 Saturday performances — is an ensemble piece. The voices are strong — and they’re backed by Chris Coogan’s incredible band.
“A lot of the kids love the music,” Roth says. “We’ve been hearing kids with different roles singing other people’s parts. It’s fun music that sticks in your head.”
And it’s an important show, sure to stick in the heads of everyone who sees it.
(“Jesus Christ Superstar” will be performed at Staples this Thursday, Friday and Saturday — July 28, 29 and 30 — at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, July 30 at 2 p.m.
(Tickets are available online — click here. Any remaining tickets are sold at the door, 30 minutes before curtain. For more information, call 203-341-1310.
(Click below to see Matt Van Gessel’s trailer.)