Fat, shimmering guitar sounds, thumping bass, bouncing piano notes and tight drums: No, those sounds aren’t coming from a French Quarter barroom. It’s Le Petit Theatre staging “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the classic 1970s rock opera, Friday through Jan. 30.
The familiar musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, follows Jesus and his apostles as they near Jesus’ crucifixion. Rice and Weber focused on the psychology of the characters, especially Jesus and Judas, depicting the story as a tragedy with rock ’n’ roll numbers.
Adair Watkins plays Judas. He admits playing perhaps one of the most despised characters in the Western world is difficult, but says the musical permits him to dive into the emotional side of these biblical characters.
“I love the way Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote this show because it shows the incredible humanity behind all these figures that we only read stories about,” Watkins said.
Audiences should remain open-minded when they attend the classic musical, as the director of this performance, Augustine Correro, has updated it and included new ideas from pop culture. He used the rock ’n’ roll elements from the theater piece to inspire the reimagining.
“I was really inspired by the rock ’n’ roll element of it, the insurgent Jesus and an otherwise oppressive society,” Correro said.
“I think that really speaks to the community and to the world as a whole right now, that Jesus is kind of a rebel. I went with that and took a little bit of inspiration from David Bowie, a bit of rock ’n’ roll icons like Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga. And we decided to do an all-out, top-to-bottom rock show.”
Those who know this musical know that over the years it has had multiple variations. Some only saw the original on stage, listened to their parents’ leather-bound recorded version or watched the 1973 film. But since then, it’s been formed into a one-woman show, Chilean metal musicians created Jesus Christ Metalstar, and its spawned a popular UK reality TV show.
When Correro came on to direct “Jesus Christ Superstar,” he knew all this. He didn’t take it as a license to change everything about the musical, as this performance remains loyal to the text. But Correro did feel obligated to create his own spin, one that is set in a contemporary yet dystopian future with elements of “The Hunger Games,” “The Matrix” and a down-on-its-luck coal-mining town.
“When one is faced with something that is considered to be a classic or something that’s often kept under glass, you often try and be polite and give people exactly what they want to see, but the expectations of any given audience member can be wildly different than the person sitting next to them,” Correro said.
“Giving everybody a story that they can relate to is the most important thing. It’s not about recreating something that they’ve already seen because quite frankly they’ve already seen that. Coming at it with a fresh set of eyes, I think was the right thing to do rather than trying to curate something that already existed.”
Watkins challenged members of the public who might feel less than sure about an updated concept to come to the show prepared.
“I really just hope that anybody who’s going to come see the show comes ready to go on the journey with us,” Watkins said, “because it really is a phenomenal one.”
As Correro said, “This is not your mama’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ ”