New theater company stages 'Jesus Christ Superstar' in CH
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s "Jesus Christ Superstar," which debuted in the 1970s, portrays the final days of Jesus of Nazareth as told through the eyes of Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 apostles. Judas worries that Jesus’ followers are heading in the wrong direction, Jesus and his movement will be destroyed by the Romans, and his message will be forgotten. The work was known for its contemporary attitude, use of contemporary slang in its lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life.
A new production of this long-running rock opera will debut in Cleveland Heights this fall.
In a production by Willow's Edge Creations, a new Cleveland-based theater company started by longtime friends and creative partners Mary Miller and Denise Astorino, the show speaks to our current age. It describes a world in which those in power drive civilization apart through hate, violence and oppression. Those who defend personal freedoms and human rights begin to mobilize amidst the growing chaos and fear. They search for something more to guide them, and find it in the form of one who had been walking among them.
Miller, a singer-songwriter and performer who grew up in South Euclid and now makes her home in Chicago, had auditioned to play the lead role of Judas several times throughout her career, but had never landed the role because she is a woman. With this production, Miller not only has fulfilled her dream to play Judas but also has highlighted issues of gender and illuminated the diversity of gender identities in our society.
“Willow's Edge seeks to celebrate authentic voices beyond stereotypes, spotlighting performers in roles they traditionally may not have been considered for, due to more conventional, binary casting,” said Miller. “We especially hope to provide opportunities for cis and trans women (queer and allies), trans masc and genderqueer folx, and BIPOC and QPOC performers.”
While Astorino has been involved in theater for more than 30 years and has an MFA in directing, this is the first major show that she is producing. “While I'm not one to think that what we are doing is going to shake up the world, theater enables people to express themselves. Human life—all human life—is reflected on stage. Some people may feel authentically represented for the first time. That is a powerful moment," said Astorino. "With all of the ugliness that is going on today—and has been for so long—if we can play even a small part in combating this by helping people feel that they are seen, respected and celebrated, then we did our jobs, and I couldn't ask for more.”
Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, 7:30 p.m., from Sept. 21 through Oct. 7, at the Cultural Arts Center at Disciples Christian Church, 3663 Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. Tickets, $20, are available online at https://willowsedge_superstar.eventbrite.com.
Fundraising for the production continues through a GoFundMe campaign at: https://gofund.me/246a1263.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher works in the mayor's office at the city of University Heights and is the proud stepsister of Mary Miller.