The summer of the musical in Vancouver continues as Fighting Chance Productions gets set to open the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar at the Waterfront Theatre this August.

For the prolific theatre company, it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear that in its eight year history of producing multiple musicals each year, it hasn’t already tackled the 1970 rock opera.

“It has always been on the radar, but I don’t like to do things if I don’t think I can cast it properly,” says Ryan Mooney, who is co-directing the show with Anna Kuman. “Over the last year or so though I’ve seen people come in to audition for other shows, and I thought we were finally in a place to be able to cast it.”

Mooney also admits that he wasn’t ready to take on the musical, that follows the final weeks of Jesus’s life leading up to his crucifixion, until he was able to come at it with a fresh lens.

“I like the show a lot, but I wanted to wait for the right type of people and the right concept,” he says. “I haven’t wanted to do it like it has been done in the past, and feel like I’m ready now.”

That concept is an adaptation of Christ’s story that brings our modern and seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity to the forefront.

Ryan Mooney co-directs an adaptation of of Christ’s story that applies our modern and seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity to his production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Ryan Mooney co-directs an adaptation of of Christ’s story that applies our modern and seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity to his production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

“In this age where an overblown celebrity like Donald Trump can seriously be in the running for President of the United States, it seems that Jesus could be today an even bigger superstar than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice originally conceived,” says Mooney.

Envisaging Jesus Christ as perhaps an influential blogger or tweeter, Mooney’s hope is to portray him as 2015 influencer, without changing any of the show’s lyrics.

“There is absolutely a social media aspect to the show, because if Jesus was alive today he’d be a celebrity,” continues Mooney. “We really are trying to think about how to make it relevant for modern theatre goers. In the 45 years we have become more obsessed by superstar status.”

Taking on the role of Jesus Christ is Fighting Chance alumnus Hal Wesley Rogers, a decision that Mooney says has little to do with colour-blind casting or as a political statement, and everything to do with finding the right person for the role.

“It has nothing to do with his ethnicity,” says Mooney. “He came in and he sang the crap out of it. He has an insane voice. While it never had anything to do with race, I think that people will read something into it, it is impossible not to given the conversations that are happening right now, but we haven’t made an artistic decision based on him being black.”

Written nearly a half-century ago, Mooney points to the music as a reason why Jesus Christ Superstar has achieved such longevity.

“Personally I think that musicals like this and Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] have helped to introduce religion through popular music,” he says. “It makes religion accessible.”

Jesus Christ Superstar plays the Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) August 6-22. Visit http://fightingchanceproductions.ca for tickets and information.