Severna Park’s Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church (WMPC) will present the play “Jesus Christ Superstar” leading up to Holy Week.
“I love community theater, and within the church atmosphere, this is something special,” said David Merrill, WMPC’s director of music and arts.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that has been entertaining audiences since its Broadway debut in 1971. The show, often referred to as a rock opera, is based loosely on the gospels and tells the story of Jesus Christ’s last days. For those who saw the production in their younger days, it brings nostalgia and fond memories of the show and its popular soundtrack. Others are seeing the play with fresh eyes and new appreciation.
Scott Wiley, a member of the ensemble who plays one of Pilate’s guards, saw “Jesus Christ Superstar” when he was a teenager.
“As soon as I heard David say he was going to do it, I rushed over here (to the church),” Wiley said. “I said, ‘I can be a hippy!’”
Brad Sperber, an understudy for Caiaphas and a member of the ensemble, saw the auditions advertised on social media. Sperber, who grew up with the show, said he’s appreciating what a complex show it is.
“The only time I’ve seen it done is with a small cast, with everyone playing like 17 roles,” Sperber said. “Here, we’re a little more specialized. I’m really impressed with the talent assembled for this.”
Jehan Silva portrays Jesus in the production. He saw the revival show on Broadway while he was still in high school and just getting into theater. It made a strong impression on him, and he jumped at the chance to be part of this production.
“I’ve always found the show to be fascinating — how it humanizes these biblical figures, really bringing out the emotional core and humanity there,” Silva said.
Silva’s favorite song in the production — “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” — is sung by Jesus as he wrestles with accepting his impending death. It’s one of the more dramatic numbers in the show.
“I think musicals are at their best when the music and lyrics come together, and the form matches the function,” Silva said. “Gethsemane is the perfect example of that.”
Merrill pointed out several scenes to watch for, including the number “Try it and See,” sung by Herod, played by Jeff Sprague. He also highlighted the temple scene, which Merrill said will be an immersive experience, as well as the 39 lashes moment.
“One of the cast members said you feel Jesus’ humanity in yourself, you feel his anguish,” said Merrill, emphasizing that the crew is careful to represent the scene while being respectful of the space in the sanctuary.
In addition to the actors and singers, Merrill expressed his appreciation for all who helped, including the designers, painters, costume workers and those who just lent a hand wherever they could. He also emphasized that his wife, Elysia, has poured herself into the choreography.
“She made some incredible pictures with her movement — we could never have done this without her work, her spirit and kindness,” Merrill said.
While the play does not include the resurrection of Jesus, it is acknowledged.
He expressed his appreciation for the incredible support of the church, including interim pastor and head of staff Randall Bush and associate pastor Nancy Lincoln Reynolds.
Performances are 7:30pm on March 24-26 and March 31-April 2. Doors open at 7:00pm. Tickets are $15. Tickets are available at www.woodstix.org.