Opera AACC is celebrating its 11th anniversary this month with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar," running Feb. 1-9 at Anne Arundel Community College's Robert Kauffman Theater at the Pascal Center for Performing Arts.
Director Douglas Brandt Byerly, chairman of AACC's performing arts department, said he hopes the show reflects his admiration of Lloyd Webber's groundbreaking work, as well as his own appreciation of the production's three leading players: Emily Sergo as Mary Magdalene, Robert Bradley as Judas and Benjamin Lurye as Jesus.
Although this rock opera may seem a departure from Opera AACC's usual "grander" shows, Byerly noted that he has scheduled at least one rock opera event per year, and "since this is the 40th anniversary of the release of the 1973 film, we wanted to pay homage to the great rock opera tradition."
Known for creating productions with broad appeal during the company's first decade, Byerly is skilled at making opera accessible to diverse audiences while always remaining faithful to the composer's intent. The result has been great audience appreciation for these operatic masterworks.
Last year's 10th anniversary celebration included "The Rocky Horror Show" in April, Victor Herbert's light opera "Naughty Marietta" in January and Verdi's verismo favorite "La Traviata" in June.
Byerly, who founded Opera AACC, has been a champion of all music forms. In "Superstar," he showcases professional and student artists in the AACC Concert Choir, AACC Chamber Singers and Opera AACC Rock Orchestra in lead roles.
At age 20, composer Lloyd Webber and young lyricist Tim Rice created this masterpiece set in little more than the week-long time frame from Palm Sunday to the crucifixion of Jesus. The musical highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas and Jesus, somewhat following a traditional passion play form.
The story emphasizes the human dimension of Jesus and is told mostly from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, who voices doubts about the teachings of Jesus and his association with the sinner Mary Magdalene. He also fears Jesus' increasing popularity and harbors his doubts that Jesus is the Messiah. This approach humanizes Judas, who sometimes becomes narrator of the story, giving an edge to the work.
Above all, it's the music that tells the story, with power and drama.
In AACC's production, Judas is played by 20-year-old Bradley, taking on a demanding role that has often been described as the "Superstar" protagonist.
Bradley is a professional rock musician with his own group, Aries, that has performed locally and been highlighted on radio station 98Rock. He has also studied singing with AACC faculty member Joy Greene, the soprano who took on the lead role of Violetta in last season's "La Traviata."
Sergo, 21, expressed her commitment to playing Mary Magdalene with a subtle shading that the role requires. An AACC student, Sergo is "taking a break" from her studies to gain experience working with local theater companies, including the Children's Theatre of Annapolis in its production of "Legally Blonde" last month, and the Folger McKinsey Elementary School's December production of Alan Menken's "Beauty and the Beast" musical.
Her singing and acting skills were also featured at the Colonial Players when she starred as Jo in "Little Women" in 2011 to critical praise. Later, Colonial tapped her piano accompanist skills in "Spitfire Grill."
Cast as Jesus, 23-year-old Lurye is building a substantial performance resume that will be enhanced by his portrayal here. Lurye seemed totally focused as he reflected on his character, saying: "He sees what is happening (in) his relations with God, and what to do in deciding to die."
Lurye's singing was singled out by DC Theatre Scene as outstanding among its 2010 Musical Scene Stealers, and no doubt his work in one of the "Superstar" signature songs, "Gethsemane," will be riveting. In September 2012, Lurye shined as Joseph in Toby's Dinner Theatre of Baltimore production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
Performances of "Jesus Christ Superstar" are scheduled at 8 p.m. on Feb. 1, 8 and 9; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for senior citizens, groups and students. For information call the box office, at 410-777-2457.
Byerly also suggests that theater fans may also wish to attend a companion piece that will run weekends, Feb. 7-16, in the AACC Humanities Building. This comedy, "The Complete Word of God (Abridged)" is directed by Lars Tatom, and will correlate with "Superstar." Tickets are $15 general and $12 for senior citizens, students, faculty and staff, active military and groups; and $7 for AACC students with ID. For tickets call the box office or email firstname.lastname@example.org.