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Box-office hit to wow Athens > ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ April 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera, Music Life Live Gigs.
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1970s rock-opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ playing for first time in Greece, at the Badminton Theater

rock_opera.jpg  Cito Otto’s performance as Jesus has played a significant role in the worldwide success of the popular rock-opera.

It has gone down in history as the first hippie version of the Passion Play, and since its 1971 premiere, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” took the world by storm, it has become a classic. The rock opera is now to be performed in Greece for the first time, starting on April 18 at the Badminton Theater in Goudi, in what producers promise will be a very different production to the 1970s original.

When “Jesus Christ Superstar” first went on stage on Broadway in 1971, it made a definite splash: Christ was depicted as a chilled-out, blue-eyed hippie, his disciples were flower children, the performance was psychedelic to the max, with rock and funk music featuring strongly, and it contained numerous references to the anti-Vietnam War movement of the time. Furthermore, the role of the Virgin Mary is blatantly absent and Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene is closer to the approach taken in the Gospel of Judas. While the inspired show faithfully follows historic record in terms of Jesus’s final days, from his arrival in Jerusalem to his death, it does not include the Resurrection, but ends, instead, with Jesus on the cross. The success of the stage musical was such that two years later, in 1973, filmmaker Norman Jewison transported it to the silver screen, grossing box-office sales of 8.6 million dollars in its first year.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is loved by some and hated by others. It has been tagged as being heretical, religious groups were vocally against it and it was banned in South Africa for several years, and a classic cult phenomenon. Yet “Jesus Christ Superstar” continues to play on Broadway and in London’s West End today. It has been staged in 15 countries, among them Kenya, Mexico, Zimbabwe and Israel, and in 1992 a Japanese kabuki production of the musical was put on at the Dominion Theater in London. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is the fifth longest-running performance in London’s West End.

The production that will be staged at Athens’s Badminton Theater has little to do with bell-bottoms, muumuus and long lanky hair. Many of the musical’s scenes have been transported to a contemporary setting, while Herod resembles a Las Vegas showman, the Romans are clad in black leather and the Sanhedrin convenes in a space that looks like a World War II German bunker.

The production is directed by Paul Warwick Griffin, who has in the past played Jesus in three separate productions of the musical, and who has also directed a plethora of big-budget productions such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Evita,” “The Madness of King George III” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” among others. Currently serving as a resident director at the Old Vic in London, Griffin also served as assistant director to Andrew Lloyd Webber for four years during the world tour of “Cats.”

The performance by American actor Cito Otto as Jesus has also played a significant role in the musical’s recent success, Otto made his debut on the musical stage in this very part, while rave reviews have been received for Judas Iscariot as performed by Robert Finlayson, a seasoned performer whose resume includes “Fame,” “Hair,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Miss Saigon.” Last, but not least, Mary Magdalene is played by Gina Shmukler, who received the national theater’s best performance in a musical award for “The Blues Brothers” in her native South Africa.

The modern feel of the performance is largely due to the impressive set and costume designs by Keith Anderson. Anderson prior to his arrival in the Greek capital, was asked  to explain his approach in this new production. The key, he says, “was the need for a set that could be adapted to all the different theaters around the world where the performances will be staged. Some stages require something more intimate and direct, others allow more epic proportions. We needed a multilevel stage so that we would not have to limit the number of dancers,” he said.

According to Anderson, the question of how the production would be adapted to the original form of the musical was never an issue. “It was never a problem,” he says. “This is my third job as a set designer in a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Generally, what we do is to listen to the music and imagine how the plot can be adapted to the present.”

On the matter of costumes, Anderson always keeps in mind that the action is supposed to take place in the same period as the New Testament, but it approaches that time as a “timeless period that encompasses past, present and future. We try to imagine what our characters would have worn in Biblical times. But, you will also see them wearing a lot of modern clothes. Wherever necessary, we armed ourselves with quite a bit of daring imagination.”

Anderson notes that the costumes he has designed are light outfits that “could be worn by young people in any century. At times, we wanted to be visually provocative and, at others, we simply wanted to incorporate certain costumes into the performance without letting them steal the limelight.” The designer sees his participation in this particular musical as “humbling. This play is above all of us.”

Badminton Theater, Goudi Military Park, Athens, tel 210 8840600. Ticket prices range from 38-68 euros. Online reservations can be made at www.ticketnet.gr.

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