Up and Coming Theatre is celebrating two big events with its production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” this weekend — the company’s 20th anniversary and its first show at the Lake Zurich Performing Arts Center.
Three, actually, considering that the theater, which has been performing at Palatine’s Cutting Hall since its debut in 1993, has been planning a production of “Superstar” for years because of its significance in musical theater.
“I think it’s an important show because it made people rethink what a Broadway musical could be,” said Barrington native Michael Gillis, who is co-directing the show with theater President Jorge Bermudez after touring Europe in the lead role of the show. “It was the first Broadway show to incorporate rock music and that really broke the door down in terms of legitimizing other types of music. Without it, we might not have shows like “Hair” or “Godspell,” or even “Pippin,” which has rock elements, all the way up to present-day shows, like “Rent” and “In the Heights.’”
After debuting as a concept album in 1970, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical about the last week in the life of Jesus Christ made its Broadway debut a year later before being adapted on screen in 1973. Since then, the show has been interpreted in a variety of ways in countless productions. In fact, Gillis and Bermudez considered setting their show in contemporary Israel or melding it with the Occupy movement.
Instead, they opted for a non-period production set at some future time involving a non-specific futuristic church and an interpretation that draws parallels with celebrity-obsessed contemporary culture.
“We decided to move away from the white robes and stuff, because we didn’t want to get lost in the historicity of the story,” Gillis said. “The music is still the same, though, and it still has the same emotional power — it’s just being presented in a stylized setting.”
Speaking of the emotional power of the show, Gillis had nothing but praise for his Up and Coming Theatre Company cast, noting that “Superstar” is not an easy show to pull off and that the lead role, in particular, is a considerable challenge. “It requires all of a performer’s abilities,” he said, speaking from experience. “It transcends other musical theater roles, re-enacting the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.”
Palatine native Timothy Michael Quinn, 23, who’s making his Up and Coming Theatre debut as Jesus, said he feels the same way about the role.
“It’s the most dramatic part I’ve played by far,” he said. “You can never forget that Jesus is one of the most influential figures in history, if not the most influential. And the range of emotion his story requires is so difficult, but I really like the challenge.”