Since its debut in 1970, Jesus Christ Superstar has been performed countless times – not only internationally and across Australia, but with a number of local retellings on Townsville stages.
Never, though, has the rock opera filled the arena of the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre. That will change this July, when Townsville local-turned-international performer Luke Kennedy returns to don the robes of Jesus for his seventh time in the role.
First taking on Jesus in North Queensland Opera and Music Theatre’s 2001 production of Superstar, Luke has gone on to lead casts in Canberra, Adelaide, and his new hometown of Brisbane – though he said it’s a role that is never the same.
“I feel privileged every time I get to play this role!” Luke said. “Jesus in Superstar is one of the classic male theatre roles, especially in contemporary musical theatre. It doesn’t get a lot better than this role, so I feel extremely privileged that so many people around the country have trusted me with it in multiple productions and the opportunity to get to do it again in Townsville is phenomenal; there’s such dramatic highs and heartbreaking lows, and as a performer it’s fabulous to be able to explore those each and every night on stage.”
“Jesus Christ Superstar is the story of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion – the show was originally written from the point of view of Judas, but he isn’t really the narrator of the show. You see all the characters in their own contexts. That’s essentially what it is, the days in the lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion, but going deeper into the different relationships between Jesus and Judas, and Jesus and Mary, and the Apostles – and you see cracks form in those relationships. I guess it tries to explain why Judas did betray Jesus according to the gospel. That is why I say it is a bit from Judas’ perspective because it does go into what his worries were – but it’s like the Titanic, we all know how it ends!”
Because of its loose basis on the gospels, the question always looms as to whether or not Superstar is a religious show.
On the initial album’s release (it was a double album before it was a musical), many religious groups opposed its focus on Judas, it’s portrayal of Jesus as “just a man” and its stopping shy of the resurrection. Although it does tell a story many people know, it exercises plenty of creative freedom in doing so. Luke said it was enjoyable no matter your background or faith.
“It was written to tell a well-known story with contemporary music and proved massively popular because it was considered sacrilege. But we know it now as a classic piece of theatre: it’s an incredible show and the way we’re presenting it in Townsville has a real rock show aesthetic.
The 2019 production promises to put the rock into rock opera, upscaling everything to fill the cavernous Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre.
“This is a scale on which people who may have seen Jesus Christ Superstar in a theatre before have never experienced,” Luke said.
“There was a really famous production of it in about 1993 that starred John Farnham and Kate Cebrano, this is more on that scale … It’s a combination of that live theatre element plus stadium rock show.
“I’ve done it in a similar style once before at the AIS Arena in Canberra a few years ago with the full stadium feel, the lighting, sound …. And it was incredible.”
This production also brings Luke full-circle, reuniting him with Vocal Director Sharon Ransom, the woman who inspired him to step on stage in the first place.
“I’ve known Sharon for a really long time – I started getting vocal lessons from her in 1998.
“Sharon was instrumental for me in a lot of ways, I was only ever just singing in small rooms in our lessons and she was the one that pushed me out there in front of people to perform. She quite literally pushed me on stage! She’s been a big part of my development and I’m really excited to be working with her on this project.”
Despite being the most well-known tale ever told, you can be sure that Townsville’s upcoming production of Superstar will deliver something new and exciting for all audience members.
Catch Jesus Christ Superstar at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre from 16-20 July. For times and tickets, click here.