Jesus Christ Superstar,” the big block letters outside the Park Theatre will soon read, heralding two back-to-back dates of music and fun for the secular and non-secular alike.
JCS is based on the gospel of John and deals with the last week or so of Jesus’ life. It is typically performed as a musical and, indeed, a 1973 film version won a Golden Globe. Originally, it was a rock opera and, once more, the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics of Tim Rice will be gracing Winnipeg’s sound pressure waves.
This particular spectacle is being put on by members of the highly-celebrated local indie bands The Liptonians and Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers. I had the opportunity to converse with Jesse Krause, an event organizer, guitarist/vocalist of Flying Fox and the man tasked with portraying the titular character himself.
“This is our second year doing this particular show. Together, with a bunch of friends from other bands we are putting on music from the rock opera. [ . . . ] There will be some degree of costume and audience participation hopefully, and some dramatic things, but the main focus is the music,” said Krause.
This “bunch of friends” reads pretty much like a “who’s who” of Winnipeg indie pop bands: members of Chic Gamine, Firebonfire, Royal Canoe, The New Lightweights and From the Moon are all on the cast list, either filling roles or providing music.
Krause spoke on some of the particular pressures of playing the title character. “He’s kind of a revered figure for a lot of people. And so [ . . . ] it seems that it would be foolish to take lightly. Tim Rice wrote the lyrics, so he’s sort of more responsible for the interpretation that the opera has of the gospel. I believe it’s based on the gospel of John — I mean, like, loosely-based, and there’s a lot of speculation about the nature of Judas’ character and Christ’s humanity.”
Now in its fourth year, the show is becoming somewhat of a pre-Easter tradition.
“Flying Fox started playing this music five years ago, [ . . . when] we had just been playing a few selections at house parties and stuff. Last year we decided we wanted to do a bigger production. We wanted to have more musicians and more characters covered, so we got together with The Liptonians, who we share members with,” Krause said.
As good as the music is on its own, there is some substance to the story too. “It’s a pretty serious story for a lot of people — myself included ��� but obviously not everybody in the production of it is a Christian or really identifies with it. But even people who would never identify themselves as Christians will appreciate [it]. It is a good story, anyway you look at [it].
Krause said that the calendar dates of the show carry significance as well.
“We specifically did it on Monde Thursday last year which, in the Christian calendar, is the day before Good Friday,” he said. “A lot are us Mennonite and sort of grew up with this being an important part of our lives, so we found a way to really sort of make it seem more real, and in terms that we understand.”
“Songs from Jesus Christ Superstar” takes place March 31 and April 1 at the Park Theatre.