Jesus: The Way, the Truth and the Superstar
A tie-dye clad group of young ladies circle toward a young man dressed as Jesus. Mary descends from left stage and the entire cast grasps hands to form a circle. Every few words can be overheard. “Unity.” “Focus.” “Great job.”
Such is the pep talk before the final rehearsal of Battle Mountain High School’s production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The cast has been working tirelessly for months in preparation for this weekend’s shows. Rehearsals that run until 10 p.m. must be scheduled around athletic practices, homework and tests.
But this devoted cast and crew of 35 have stayed the course, and prepare to show the valley what they have mastered at four performances throughout the weekend. And master they have; the hard work has paid off and the show is ready to go.
“We’re so much more prepared for this show, it makes us much more comfortable with the performance,” said dancing, singing chorus member Kelly Lemon. “We were prepared a week ago, and last year we were still nervous on the first night. This is letting us polish it and have it really ready.”
Battle Mountain High School music director, and drummer of the rock-band orchestra, Dave Laub agrees.
“This is definitely the most prepared show I’ve seen in my time here,” he said with pride in his voice. “We held the auditions in the end of January, and we’ve been practicing four nights a week since then. This is by far the most prepared show I’ve been a part of.”
And such is no easy feat. Especially when producing a show as unique and challenging as “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“This is the first rock opera ever written, so it’s of course very different than standard Broadway musical shows,” Laub said. “There are no speaking lines Ð it’s all sung. Everyone performing in the show is very into singing, we have a pretty talented vocal crew here.”
An unconventional role
Talented, and by casting standards, somewhat unconventional because a little gender-bending had to be done in this portrayal of the popular musical to accommodate student interest.
“We chose this play because we’ve been losing so much of the male interest in musicals, we thought this particular selection would fire the boys up to get involved,” said Battle Mountain High School drama teacher and production ringleader Suzanne Foster. “But only 5 showed up to audition, so we had to improvise. We have girls playing Judas and Pilate, so we are taking some risks.”
Pilate, otherwise known as Meghan Meehan, says she is trying not to think too much about the fact that her role is typically played by a man. To her, it’s just a nice change from the norm.
“I’m not trying to play it as a man, I’m just thinking of it as a fun opportunity to for me to do something different than typical girl roles,” Meehan said. “In the past I’ve played roles like a barmaid, roles that are girlie. It’s fun to do something different.”
Student director Jenna Levesque, wearing a headset and preparing for the dress rehearsal, stopped scurrying long enough to agree.
“The whole cross-gendering thing has worked out much better than I thought it would,” she said.
Laub agrees that the actresses playing male roles adapted very well, once the music was tailored to fit vocal-range needs.
“The vocal ranges were a little difficult to fit to the parts, we had to mess around with that a little,” Laub elaborated. “But they all do a really good job.”
Where everybody knows your name
To many actors, the best part of the show is the friendships forged and strengthened during the course of months of rehearsals.
“With only 25 cast members – 35 students including the crew – it’s the smallest cast I’ve ever worked with,” said Foster. “They’ve grown very close together.”
“It’s also a lot of fun because the cast is freshman through seniors, so it gives you a chance to meet people you never would have had a chance to be so close with,” said Lemon, scanning the room of excited teenagers.
And it is both seasoned stage veterans as well as first-time actors who are enjoying the camaraderie on stage.
“I thought it was the last chance, and I thought it would be fun,” said senior and first-time actress Maddie McCaulley, who plays an apostle. “I really think we’re ready.”
Virgin Mary, played by Jessie Hanson, feels that this particular play, with it’s wild music and rock beats, brings the cast even more into the production.
“It’s going really well, we’ve made so much progress,” she said. “I’ve been in a bunch of plays – I love music overall, but it’s nice to do something different from the classical stuff.”
Choreographer Jonathan Windham agrees.
“This show is awesome, they couldn’t have picked a better play,” Windham said with enthusiasm. “I’m a dancer, and I’ve choreographed little things here and there, but this is my biggest project. Ms. Foster asked me if I’d be willing to work on it, it’s been great.”
And for some, it’s just good old rock ‘n’ roll.
Erick Lucero, who plays the leading role of Jesus, says this is his first acting endeavor – though he does have a related interest.
“This is my first play, and I got the lead role, which was kind of cool,” Lucero said. “But I’m definitely into music, it’s my thing. And 70’s rock is always cool!”
Sharing the wealth
Not only will the Battle Mountain cast perform in their auditorium Thursday through Sunday evenings, they’re also taking their show on the road to other local schools all day Thursday. The approach, Foster says, allows the annual performances to serve as liaison between middle and high school children and their communities.
“A lot of the kids grow up watching the plays when we come, and they want to be a part of the drama program when they get here to Battle Mountain,” Foster explained. “The teachers there love it as well; they know so many of the kids, they have so much fun seeing them grow and trying to guess which is which all grown up.”
The traveling aspect also presents a sense of variety to the actors – as well as a sense of challenge. Windham is excited about the challenges facing the cast on unfamiliar stages, but says the pressure will really be on at the shows on the home stage at Battle Mountain.
“It’s different when we travel because the stages are laid out differently, there are changes in acoustics. But the shows here have more people we know and want to impress. There are different expectations different places.”
But this crew of talented and driven youngsters is sure to leave no expectation unmet.
Come see the rock ‘n’ roll stage show at the Battle Mountain High School Auditorium. Thursday April 15 features a dinner theater at 6 p.m., curtain at 8 p.m. Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17, have curtain times of 7 p.m. Sunday, April 18, has a curtain time of 2 p.m. Tickets for the dinner show are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and $10 for kids under 11 years. The rest of the shows are $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors and $4 for 11 years and under. Call the school for more information.
Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer based in Vail.