ALPHARETTA, Ga.— The story of Jesus Christ has been told countless ways over thousands of years, but one of the most unique formats is the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
ACT1 Theater, based out of Alpharetta Presbyterian Church, will bring this musical version of the story of Jesus Christ to the stage July 14-Aug. 6.
The musical chronicles Jesus’ final days, and is told from the point of view of Judas, Jesus’ betrayer.
ACT1 Theater has staged shows and musicals for more than 20 years and operates as an outreach of Alpharetta Presbyterian Church. Members of the theater troupe come from throughout the community.
“We welcome people from all walks of life and all belief systems,” said Melody Cookson, director for the production. “We consider ourselves a welcoming, nurturing, safe space for people.”
Cookson said this production of the rock opera differs from others because of the smaller stage available to the troupe.
“We are always challenged by the small size and intimate setting of our space,” Cookson said. “I wanted to bring the bigness of the rock-opera concept, but in a small space.”
Cookson explained her vision for the show.
“I wanted it to be relevant to everyone in the audience, regardless of your belief system, because it was a historical event as well as a theological event, and I wanted to affect everyone in the audience equally.”
Cookson was also challenged with finding enough men to take on parts. She cast women in roles that traditionally went to men, such as the role of Judas, portrayed by Nicole Falco.
“In approaching the casting of this, I decided that I had to go on the strength of performance, not on gender,” Cookson said. “It’s also relevant, that if ‘Superstar’ was set in modern times, women are as relevant as men in many denominations now, and apostles can be relevant regardless of gender.”
Falco said she was surprised to hear she’d gotten the part of Judas.
“I really doubted they were going to cast a woman to play Judas, I thought they were trying something new in callbacks, seeing if it worked,” Falco said. “I thought playing a biblical role and gender-bending it could be controversial. It was a mixture of being stunned and really excited.”
Falco has two props she uses — a jade egg and a fake knife — to help get into character.
“I have these props because I give them backstories,” Falco said. “Since Judas doesn’t have much of a backstory in the Bible —you only get to know what he did and not who he was — I have to give him one.”
Mike Glatzer, who plays the role of Jesus, originally worked with the production behind the curtain.
“I was originally supposed to stage manage, but on the day we were casting, we were looking around at each other with the rest of the production team, and we really weren’t comfortable with any of our possibilities for our potential Jesus,” Glatzer said.
Cookson suggested Glatzer would be perfect for the role, and after Glatzer auditioned with two high-range songs, the part was his.
Glatzer said his first reaction to getting the role was fear, because he was worried what the other cast members would think about his switch from production team to actor. His fears dissipated at the first rehearsal, where he got a round of applause from his other cast members.
Both Cookson and Glatzer said the best part of working on “Jesus Christ Superstar” is the supportive nature of the cast and crew.
“Everyone truly wants to lift up everyone else, and there has been very little drama,” Cookson said, adding that audience members can expect to be wowed by the use of the small venue.
“We do have a full band sound, we do have amazing lighting, we do have a large cast,” said Cookson. “Even though we are limited by size and scope of our theater, we have brought a large experience that people expect from a rock opera like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ ”
Falco said the audience gave standing ovations after each of the first three performances.
“You can feel the energy, which is what’s so awesome about live theater, that you get to work off the audience’s energy — it’s palpable in the air,” Falco said.
Tickets for “Jesus Christ Superstar” are $15 and can be purchased from act1theater.com or by phone at 770-663-8989.