By Jason A. Smith
A biblical story will take a musical turn on stage, beginning tonight, courtesy of the Henry Players.
The acting troupe will present "Jesus Christ Superstar," tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., at the Henry County Performing Arts Center (PAC) in McDonough.
The play chronicles the last week of Jesus Christ's life on earth, set to music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Damon Bohan is co-directing the play, along with Matt Middlebrook. Bohan described "Superstar" as a "rock opera," which turned heads when it was unveiled to American audiences in 1970. "It was definitely welcomed with a lot of controversy at the time," said Bohan, 47. "Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice got together and wrote this ripping, rock score behind a biblical theme. I think people were ... taken aback by it ..."
Bohan added that his own religious beliefs made "Superstar" a personal experience for him as a director, and as a Christian. "To me, it's the greatest story ever told -- the story of Jesus," he said. "This allowed me to put two of my loves -- my love of music ... and my belief system -- together on stage, and share it with the rest of the community."
Bohan added that some scenes in "Superstar" contain "graphic" special effects, as evidenced by the hanging of Judas Iscariot. "You'll actually see his hanging -- twitching feet and all," he said. "It's going to be quite a feat."
Middlebrook is taking his second turn at directing a production with the Players in "Jesus Christ Superstar." During the 2009-2010 season, he directed the "The Women," a play containing dialogue only, and no music.
"Superstar," Middlebrook said, proved to be a challenge for him.
"In a straight show, you've got the dialogue, which you can pace and change up a little bit," he said. "In a musical, you have to communicate everything while you're singing a song. This one, in particular, is very challenging, because it happens rapid-fire."
Middlebrook credited his cast for the work they have done in putting the production together. "The cast has done a fantastic job of being able to communicate the story, and the emotion behind the songs, very well," he said. "Not only do they have tremendous voices, but they also have fantastic acting ability."
Adam Grubbs, will play Jesus of Nazareth. He said the "emotional intensity" of the play appealed to him. "This isn't like any other show that you will ever do, and it's not like any other role that you will ever play," said Grubbs, 30. "The emotions, from elation to devastation, come in a fairly short period of time. It's very difficult, but it's very rewarding at the same time, as an actor."
Grubbs, a veteran actor who will take the stage with the Henry Players for the first time tonight, said preparing for this week's production has been a "wonderful experience."
"I'm used to putting on a musical in a month -- at most, five weeks," said Grubbs. "It can be stressful and really hard to do, on everybody involved. The great thing about the Players is ... we've had a longer period. I've really enjoyed the organic nature of this."
Russ Ivey will take on the role of Judas Iscariot. He said a long-held love for the play drew him to audition for the role. "This is in my top-three dream roles that I've ever had," said Ivey, 38. "For years, I had stopped going to church, and had lost a lot of the spirituality that I used to have. A friend of mine had loaned me the DVD [of the play] a few years ago, and when I watched the DVD, I was completely, spiritually moved by it. It brought back a lot of things I had lost over the years. It's a sad story, that ultimately ends in good.
"There's a few scenes where I'm supposed to be crying," he said. "I've actually found myself, on a couple of nights, start crying during those scenes, because I get into the story so much."
Joanna Griffin said she was not seeking a particular part when was given the role of Mary Magdalene. Griffin said her curiosity about her current play's reputation intrigued her. "A lot of people have different views about whether it's sacrilegious ... and I just wanted to find out for myself," said Griffin, 26. "You can make it what you want it to be. If the directors are of the mind that they're going to make it ... something other than what the Bible teaches, they can do that. But, if they choose to try to keep a more biblical view of things, it can be acted in [that] way. For the most part, I don't think it's as bad as some people have made it out to be. I was pleasantly surprised."
Steve Green is a former Players board member, who is returning to the stage in "Jesus Christ Superstar" after a brief hiatus. He will portray one of two priests in the production, and said he is looking forward to the opportunity.
"This is a show that I've known since I was just out of high school," said Green, 59. "I wanted to be in it because I loved it so much, and it was time to get back into [acting]. I just wanted a small part, to get my feet wet again."
He called the production a "fun show," adding that he has enjoyed interacting with others in the cast. "The cast members are terrific," he said. "We've become close friends. It's going to be tough saying good-bye, Sunday night, to a lot of them."
He encouraged people who want to know more about the Henry Players, to see "Jesus Christ Superstar" for themselves. "We do a good job, and you walk out knowing that we've gone the extra mile," Green said.
Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for children and seniors. The price is $1 more at the door of the PAC. For ticket locations and more information, visit www.henryplayers.com.