For the past five decades, Andrew Lloyd Webber has left his indelible mark on stages across Broadway and London’s West End. His genius has given birth to some of the most innovative and groundbreaking musical theater productions ever created, racking up Tony Awards and sellout crowds along the way.
But it was one of Webber's earliest creations that was perhaps his boldest. In 1970, he teamed up with lyricist Tim Rice to create a musical based upon the last days of Jesus. The musical, presented from the perspective of disciple (and ultimate betrayer) Judas, depicts Jesus as a rockstar whose fans and followers eventually abandon him and ultimately turn on him.
Now, 50 years after its debut, Jesus Christ Superstar is being resurrected for a national tour — and the provocative musical kicks off right here in Austin.
Jenna Rubaii, who plays Mary Magdelene, says that the most recent production is, "fresh and extremely energetic, combining choreography, visual imagery, set design, and costuming with the iconic music of the show to make the most popular story of all time relatable to people using contemporary themes.”
Rubaii believes that the diversity of Jesus Christ Superstar's score is part of the reason the show has retained its popularity for so many decades. "Some of the songs are pop, some rock 'n roll, and some Gospel. I can't even think of another musical with so many different genres of music," she says.
In addition to playing one of the show's key roles, the actor also has the honor of singing some of Jesus Christ Superstar's most iconic songs, including "I Don't Know How To Love Him." Though audiences will know the work, Rubaii is bringing her own take to the performance.
"We stripped it back to basics," she says of the iconic musical piece. "The song is so simple, but at the same time there is so much weight to it. It represents the struggle of this strong woman in her relationship with Jesus, from both a perspective of romance as well as faith," she explains. “Perhaps that is why it is so beloved. I view Mary Magdalene as a powerful woman ... the only woman listed as a firsthand witness to the events of the Passion."
Rubaii believes that what makes this current production so special is an effort to explore the characters' humanity, rather than just historical or biblical figures. The music, she says, is integral in bringing that humanistic feel to the story. "In my song, I sing the line, ‘He's just a man,' [and] Judas sings the same line,” explains Rubaii.
One of the great unknowns Webber faced in creating the show was how people of faith might react to using rock 'n' roll as the backdrop for the story about the Passion of Christ. Fifty years later, Rubaii says she hopes that everyone is open to seeing the story in a different way, and adds she even knows of a group of nuns who are very excited about coming to see the show.
Ultimately, Rubaii and her castmates are hopeful that the show opens doors for people from all walks of life to come together to really enjoy theater in a very special way.
If you have never seen this iconic musical, or even if you have and just want to see a fresh interpretation, Jesus Christ Superstar will begin its nationwide tour at Bass Concert Hall on October 8-13.