There are basically two directions a director can take Jesus Christ Superstar.
She can be faithful to the period when Christ lived, at least as the modern world imagines it.
Or she can be faithful to the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock operas origins as a rock opera.
Harlequin Productions Linda Whitney went the second route, adding ripped-from-the-viral-video newsiness to the 40-something show.
This is not what people might be expecting, Whitney said. This particular treatment is very modern. Its based on the Occupy movement, the idea being that this group of protesters has coalesced around Jesus.
There really are a lot of parallels with the time, she said. The Jews had been for a couple of centuries trying to get the Romans out of Israel.
The political content is very much there in the show, she said. Simon sings about Jesuss following, encouraging him to harness it to drive the Romans from Jerusalem.
Whitney added protest signs bearing such statements as People Over Profit, video screens and modern choreography by Jessica Low, who also plays Mary.
Playing Jesus is Capital Playhouse regular (and resident set designer) Bruce Haasl, who played Judas in a 2009 production. Harlequin regular Christian Doyle plays Judas.
Whitney, who runs Harlequin with her husband, Scot, is known for her love of history especially history thats relevant to the moment. Tying Biblical times into modern ones is exactly what youd expect of her. So its a surprise to find out she first planned to take the classical approach, imagining period dress, puppetry, masks and aerial work.
The turnaround was inspired by the unavailability of the costume designer she wanted and by last years Superstar tour through the arenas of the United Kingdom. The show starred former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm aka Sporty Spice as Mary Magdalene and used big screens to show close-ups to audiences of thousands.
While the Harlequin show has the feel of a rock concert, it doesnt have the volume good news for noise-sensitive patrons sitting in the front rows.
All of the music is electronic, with the volume determined by sound engineer Karl Welty.
In previous musicals, the music sometimes was very loud near the stage in an attempt to fill the space with sound. The actors had to deal with extremely high volumes, and it was sometimes difficult to hear them over the high-energy music.
Thats all changed, said Harlequin managing artistic director Scot Whitney.
All of the band members have in-ear monitors, so they can hear each other perfectly, and it sounds to them like they are playing full blast, he said. I happened in during a rehearsal, and the sound guys were like, Scot, Scot, check it out. They took the volume down so it was just barely a whisper, and the band was up there playing away and they didnt even know.