Part 1 of a series looking backstage at the Mainstage production  

The University of Lethbridge Production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice is an epic rock opera. This groundbreaking musical re-imagines the last days of Jesus Christ, offering a unique perspective on the iconic biblical narrative through a contemporary and electrifying lens. ULethbridge's production is captivating audiences with its powerful storytelling, dynamic performances and a musical score that seamlessly blends rock, gospel and classical influences.

Doug MacArthur, director and a faculty member in the Faculty of Fine Arts, has long had the musical on his bucket list of shows he’d love to do.

“It’s a show I’ve been familiar with for most of my life, since the early ‘70s,” says MacArthur, adding he knew the show was one his colleague and the show’s musical director Bente Hansen (BMus ’86) was also interested in. “I thought this could be a great way to bring music students together with drama students and open it up to other people in the University and community.”

The rock opera was first performed on Broadway in 1971. For this performance, MacArthur kept all of the language from the original and chose to set the opera in a contemporary time with no specific location.

“The show, in its strengths and weaknesses, introduces us to the humanity of this character from history."

Jesus struggles not only with the path he felt he was called on but also in his relationship with divinity and the people around him, including his followers, Judas, the Romans and religious leaders of the time. Jesus is enlightened and his incredible compassion awakens people and changes their lives. His star quality generates attention and presents him with the challenge of keeping to his message amid a snowballing movement. Religious leaders notice and Jesus’ popularity troubles them to the point they want to quash it.

“Jesus brings a good message to the world and the possibility of living in a more peaceful world,” says MacArthur. “The message is also a threat to the status quo and that is something we see throughout history and even today.”

Bringing these universal themes of love, loyalty and fear to life on stage are 25 actors and a dozen orchestra members, in addition to many people working behind the scenes, such as sound and light operators, the costume shop, set designers, choreographers and stage managers. Sandra Stringer from the music department is the vocal director and the choreographer is Madison Cowan from Van Dance, with assistant choreographer duties filled by drama student Ahona Sanyal. Franz Faeldo, a fourth-year student in the faculty, portrays Jesus while Judas is being played by a community member, Jillian Bracken. Zoë Bracken (BFA - Dramatic Arts '18, BEd '20) (no relation to Jillian) is serving as the acting coach.

“This is Judas’ story as much as it is Jesus’s story, maybe more. Judas is often painted as the betrayer, the evil one responsible for Jesus’ death. In this show, Judas is a sympathetic character. He really cares for Jesus and is trying to do what is best for him, but finds himself caught in a sequence of events that are out of his control.”

ULethbridge students are at the heart of the production, which runs from March 12 to 16. From those involved behind the scenes to those in the orchestra and those appearing on centre stage, audiences can be assured of a theatrical tour de force.

More Behind-the-Scenes Stories

Behind the scenes at the Costume Shop
Costume designer Patricia (Peach) Jonzon and her team have created and assembled dozens of costumes.
Behind the scenes at the Scene Shop
Set designer Dave Smith, the Scene Shop and a team of students, have sawed, drilled and painted for months in crafting the stage set.
Behind the scenes at rehearsal
The cast and crew for the University of Lethbridge Production of Jesus Christ Superstar recently assembled for a sitzprobe, a German word for seated rehearsal.

*JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of The Really Useful Group.