When I saw the announcement that cast members were wanted for a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar, my brain started working overtime, much of it matters of memory.
Picture it – sometime back in the early 1970s, in a very urban place, a street called Steinway in the Astoria section of Queens, New York, where there is a lot of pedestrian and car traffic and lots of stores.
With my best high school friend, Joe Carella, I was walking on this street and I look down and here is this envelope. Inside it was a crisp $20 bill. We looked around, checked to see if anyone looked like they were missing money, and saw no takers.
I guess I was 15 or 16 years old, and Joe said the money was mine, and we were conveniently near a record store. I purchased a brand-new, wrapped in cellophane 33 ½ rpm record album, a two record set, which was the entire production of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Weber and Rice.
We had been studying the work in the music appreciation class at Mater Christi High School. As a Catholic I was intrigued by this new look at Jesus, who sang and got angry at the moneychangers, and a Judas who came to life as a tortured man with deep regrets, and I played the record over and over again singing all the parts, and I can still sing you just about any song from it today.
As some of you may know I am no stranger to theater, having been involved with several productions at Le Petit Theatre de Terrebonne. If you know anything about all this, then you may have heard that as Oscar Madison, in the 2001 production of the Odd Couple, opposite the late, great Bootsy Savoy as Felix, I was suspected to have been type-casted. I won’t argue.
So in the pages of the newspaper I work for is this casting call for Jesus Christ Superstar, a live production. What some people said was radical when I was in high school is now kind of old hat. There are many more controversial things for the public to argue about than the Weber and Rice interpretation of Mary Magdeline. Back when this was new there were still people in the Catholic Church objecting to any instrument other than a pipe organ, trying to throw cold water on folk music masses.
The production is the work of producer Lorna Gianelloni and director Perry Martin, both of whom have hard-won reputations for excellence in local theater. Performances will be April 1 and 2 at the Houma Courtyard Marriott and April 8 and 9 at the newly renovated South Lafourche High School auditorium. So Saturday I found myself with a bunch of talented people, working with the first choral rehearsals for the show, and I had forgotten how wonderful it is to sing with other people and the excitement that comes even when you are listening to the same song getting worked with over and over again.
I’m not giving away secrets, but I will tell you that I am proud to be associated with people who really care about this community and have talent. Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman, radio personality and author Larry Hyatt, and an artful guitarist and singer named Britt Domangue are among these.
I am certainly too young to play Jesus, and while my voice might have handled the demanding role of Judas at one time, I will speak for myself and say that I was cast as Caiaphas, the high Pharisee who ended up bringing Jesus before Pilate. Baritones were in short supply during casting, I guess.
But I needed to share with you the joy of getting back into a show biz groove, of dealing with the pure talent of my neighbors and no controversies. It is a true food for the soul. And I highly recommend it.