Lauren Cate Leake, Joseph VanZandt, Miles Doleac, Lindsey Williams and David Echevarria will be in the upcoming play Jesus Christ Superstar at the Saenger Theater rolling May 8th through the 10th.- Courtesy Photo
This spring, the Hattiesburg Civic Light Opera will open its latest production, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
As the title implies, the story is a modern retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, focusing on his last days on Earth. Not only does the rock music woven throughout the piece add a new element to it, but this story is also told from the perspective of Judas, not Jesus or some omnipresent narrator.
Something unique to this particular production is the fact that the characters of Jesus and Judas are played by two men who alternate roles every show.
“During auditions, we discovered that both actors were qualified for either role,” said Rob Mulholland, director of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“Michelle (the music director) and I were having a tough time deciding and that’s when we thought of this. It is unique in HCLO history and will be particularly fascinating for audience members who are able to see it twice.”
The two men portraying Jesus and Judas are Joseph VanZandt and Miles Doleac, a Southern Miss professor of classics.
“I’m ecstatic to be doing this show,” Doleac said. “It has been my favorite musical since I was a kid. This rock ‘n’ roll retelling came out in 1970 in the midst of Woodstock, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. It was the opportune moment to do a retelling showing Jesus as the revolutionary he was.”
Doleac has been involved with HCLO since he was a child growing up in Hattiesburg, and last year starred as Jean Valjean in a production of “Les Miserables.”
“Many of the people involved with HCLO are doing it on a volunteer basis, so it’s great to see everyone working so hard on this and really make it an amazing show,” Doleac added.
Sawyer McLeod, a USM alumnus with a BFA in theatre performance, will also perform in this production as the character of Simon Zealotes.
“He’s considered the most passionate and dramatic of all the disciples,” McLeod said. “He’s fiercely devoted to Christ and sings an entire song about how much he and all those surrounding him adore Christ and that they would do anything he asked of them.”
With this piece being a musical, all of the actors have had to do voice work to prepare for their roles.
“Most all of the male roles in the show are in the higher tenor register, and I haven’t used my true tenor voice since I was a music major (freshman year),” McLeod said. “But regardless of what vocal part one sings, the show is very vocally demanding. It’s been very challenging.”
With the story being told from the perspective of Judas, an interesting relationship with Mary Magdalen and all of the rock music, some people consider this piece to be blasphemous. However, those involved with the production do not see this being the case.
“Superstar has been endorsed by thousands of clergy all over the globe, including a number of them locally,” Mulholland said. “For the original production, Pope Paul VI was quoted as saying that ‘the music was so inviting and so spiritual that it would spread the essence of Christ worldwide.’”
“It simply takes the age old story we all know and relates it to today’s audiences, basically making us get a feel for what it would be like if Jesus was around today,” McLeod said.
“There is evidence of all of the things implied in the musical,” Doleac said. “The revolutionary who was a danger to the establishment could be inferred from the Gospels. If your Jesus is Jesus the revolutionary, then this is the show for you.”
“Jesus Christ Superstar” opens May 7 at 7:30 p.m. The show will continue to run on May 8 and 9 at the same time with a 2 p.m. matinee on May 10.