It was a vocal jam I’ll not soon forget and one that has me anxiously anticipating this coming November.
Earlier this week the cast for the local production of Jesus Christ Superstar assembled at the Baptist church on Fifth Street for the first time. The goal was to sing through the show and get familiar with the music that will bring the Capitol Theatre stage alive just over four months from now.
It was so much more than that.
From the opening notes belted out by Michael Calladine — who will play Judas — it was a flesh raising night of incredible local talent. As a member of the chorus, I sat nervously in the back and quickly realized two things. First, in a room with such talent, I was way over my head vocally. And second, even though this was just the rehearsal for the rehearsal, it would be extremely hard not to stand and applaud after each scene was finished.
My first brush with Jesus Christ Superstar was when I was eight. My parents had one of those cool 1970s wooden stereo consoles that opened from the top to reveal the turntable. In the days before video games and 24-hour cartoon channels, bored children had to find other ways to keep busy on rainy days. One day I was rooting around the house and decided to explore the stereo unit my parents told me firmly to “not play with.”
When I opened the top of the forbidden furniture, I was immediately drawn to a brown box. It had two golden angels on the cover and looked very mysterious. Inside were albums and though I had never been shown how to actually put a record on the turntable, I managed to figure out how the get the needle on the vinyl.
This was the original Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice opera concept album recording and for an eight-year-old whose world of music consisted of Sesame Street sing-alongs and his grandpa’s Nestor Pistor albums… it was mind blowing. Dark, scary, beautiful, funky and rocking… Superstar had it all. I rolled through all four sides of the double-album and carefully explored the liner notes.
It opened up a strange new world and I was hooked. I listened to that album over and over and over again… always under the radar of my mom since I was still not allowed to touch the living room record player.
As the 1970s progressed, so did my own personal universe of music. Having a brother six years older eventually meant I would sneak into his room and play his records. Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple (whose singer Ian Gillan played Jesus in the original Superstar recording), Rod Stewart and the Kinks all seemed a simple extension of Superstar. Once old enough to actually buy records of my own, the music of Kiss, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were the next step.
Almost 40 years later my iPod contains 8,500 songs that cover every genre of music. It’s rare that music isn’t playing in the background of my life somewhere and it can all be traced back to the eclectic and incredible sounds of Jesus Christ Superstar (still in heavy rotation).
When I heard that Nelson’s Kevin Armstrong had decided to stage Superstar at the Capitol… well, I suppose it’s obvious how I felt.
About a month ago I was interviewing Armstrong on a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Star News Loft for a story about his return to Nelson after several years in Europe. I mentioned my fondness for Superstar and the director encouraged me to give it a shot. The next thing I knew we were singing Peter’s Denial together in the office. Clearly one of the coolest interviews I’ve ever done, and since I can’t imagine breaking into song with Mayor John Dooley anytime soon, something that will likely never happen again.
During the formal audition process back in May, I mustered the courage to stand before Armstrong and musical director Laura Johnson. Though my vocal skills pale in comparison to the others that filed through that day, my enthusiasm landed me a spot in the chorus where I couldn’t be happier.
The depth of local talent in this area never fails to blow me away. This past Monday night at the Baptist church was no exception.
More than 40 cast members gathered and the setting was informal. Just a pre-summer gathering to get acquainted with the music and each other before the real work begins in September. Armstrong and Johnson should have charged admission.
In its roughest and earliest form, the voices that echoed in the church that night were full of passion and promise. Turns out I’m not the only who loves the music created 42 years ago.
Tickets for the six-show run are already on sale at the Capitol Theatre. If you love music, you won’t want to miss it.