For Aaron LaVigne, playing Jesus in the 50th-anniversary tour of Broadway smash “Jesus Christ Superstar” means completing his spiritual bookends.
That's because this show marked the first musical production he ever starred in, as a teenager in high school… Though not as Jesus, but Judas.
Even while conveying the darker side of the story, LaVigne felt captivated by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s electrifying music and the show’s gripping storyline, he remembers.
“I just got hooked. I kept thinking, ‘What is this music?’” he recalls. “It was a very moving experience.”
The show so affected him, it inspired his entire musical theater career.
“I studied musical theater in college because of that experience,” LaVigne says. “And I’m now playing Jesus on the 50th-anniversary tour.”
Switching sides from Judas to Jesus posed no problem for him, he adds.
“It’s a dream role for me. For anyone,” LaVigne says.
Especially in this acclaimed tour that offers a fresh take on the renowned production, with athletic choreography and a fierce emotional undertone that adds whole new layers to the musical.
“I’ve never seen a version (of “Jesus Christ Superstar”) like this,” he says.
LaVigne describes the tour’s reimagined approach as a high-energy combination of different performance worlds, merging elements of a Passion play (depicting the trial and death of Jesus) as well as a “rock ‘n’ roll show” and a “crazy dance concert.”
“There are so many layers,” LaVigne says. “(The show) flows in and out of all of these, and somehow it all works.”
The tour also ratchets up the story’s intensity, he adds, with LaVigne even working with a special combat choreographer for fight scenes.
Added to this, the creative team urges the tour’s performers — especially the leads — to incorporate their own personalities and insights into their roles, to make portrayals all the more powerful.
“My angle (I’m bringing to my performance) is that it’s the story of the man, the story of the conflict inside the man, knowing he has to go through this intense journey,” LaVigne says. “It’s wildly emotional.”
LaVigne has no doubt why “Jesus Christ Superstar” has remained a hit for half a century: the music.
He reminds that the show got its start as a concept album by Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, which rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts.
“The score is so emotionally driven and it’s so soulful, but it’s also so groovy and it’s just a hip vibe,” LaVigne says. “There are hooks for days in this music, so it’s easy to latch onto, and easy to remember and easy to enjoy.”
While this national tour brings many fresh ideas to this epic story, LaVigne emphasizes that the creative team honors the original melodies.
“(The tour) is staying true to the score,” he vows. “It’s almost like you could close your eyes and hear the original album.”
This, paired with the tour’s powerful portrayal of the story, is why he expects audiences to obsess over the show.
“It’s a highly emotional, theatrical experience, and it’s also a cool, fresh take on the story,” he says.
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