The new Ovation Theatre company wants to make a good — and lasting — first impression as it opens its inaugural season Friday night.
One way you can do that is to open with "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"We want people to come to our show and say, 'That was an Ovation show,'"said artistic director Hal Friedman. "We want them to see that it has our style all over it."
Friedman said the theater company went through a lengthy decision-making process to pick the landmark show by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. First came making a list of all the top shows that would be familiar to audiences.
"But we didn't want it to be 'Oklahoma!' ... we wanted it to be something everybody knows and maybe it isn't done all too often," Friedman said.
Next the company had to consider resources — cast, space, etc. — and cost of renting the book, score and permission to perform the show. Friedman said "Jesus Christ Superstar" was one of the first shows mentioned in the process, and was chosen not only because of it's popularity, but because it lent itself to "deconstruction."
"It gives us the opportunity to put our stamp on something and show how we can do things with a show that everybody knows," Friedman said.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" was the first big hit by the still-new songwriting team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Originally released as a concept album in 1970, the show went on to Broadway legend the next year, winning acclaim and criticism for its controversial interpretation of the nature of both Jesus and Judas Iscariot.
Wanting to move beyond that, Friedman said he went to the foundation material — yes, the Bible — plus other books about Jesus Christ, to get more insight into the characters.
"I wanted people to see Jesus as someone who turned the other cheek and taught the Apostles how to be, and still be sympathetic to Judas, which is a big part of the show," Friedman said.
Drawing inspiration from Broadway mega-hit "Hamilton," Friedman said the company decided to move away from the traditional "historical" rendering that sets the story in first century Judea and update it with certain criteria in mind.
"We were looking at how can we make this interesting for a modern audience," Friedman said. "If this were happening today, who would these people be? We're not just going to modernize it randomly."
Friedman said the update started with casting.
"I want a multicultural cast; I want a cast that looks like America," Friedman said.
The "Superstar" cast includes some local "stars" — Ken Burdick as Jesus; Jennifer Resolme as Mary Magdalene; Mason Edwards as Judas; Jason McClain as Pilate; Tessa Ogles as Simon; Nick Ono as Peter; Kyle Gaines as Caiaphas and Stephen Bush as Annas.
Friedman is the director of the show, assisted by musical director Amber O'Reilly, choreographer Marvin Ramey and conductor John Barker.
Other updates will be evident in the choreography, staging and costuming, Friedman said.
Speaking of updates, theater-goers can expect to see an updated look in theater building itself. Formerly the home of the beloved Spotlight Theater, the 99-seat house is also getting a facelift, with new colors and decor by Terri Cline and Jason McClain.
"The goal was to make this a mini Pantages (Theater)," Friedman said.
The 2017-18 season will continue with "Legally Blonde: The Musical," "Gypsy," "Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical," and "Million Dollar Quartet," and extend into next spring.
"We feel these five shows are all strong shows and they all fit with things we like to do," Friedman said. "We wanted to give everyone a taste of everything, but do things artistically and just do great theater."
"Jesus Christ Superstar" will run weekends through June 25.