Jesus will rise again, and this time he’ll be in Texas — hopefully to nicer crowds than he got in Jerusalem — as Lexus Broadway in Austin presented by Texas Performing Arts launches the reimagined 50th Anniversary national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Set within the last week of Jesus’s life, Jesus Chris Superstar loosely depicts the political and interpersonal struggles that led up to the titular character’s crucifixion. This time around, Jesus isn’t just another scripture-thumping hack from Galilee though. The story is told through powerful, captivating music. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with cast member Alvin Crawford prior to the national tour’s opening night to get the backstage details of this miraculous production. During the tour, Crawford will be taking up the role of Caiaphas, a high priest that sees Jesus as a threat to the Roman Empire, given his growing following.
“Jesus is coming to our little city here and disrupting everything,” he explained of the situation. “I’m actually a very nice person, but [Caiaphas] is not very nice. My character is not very nice, and wants him to go away, so he has a little conference with the rest of his priests to make a plan to get rid of him so everything can be calm and we stay in control.”
Crawford is no stranger to Broadway, having landed roles in The Lion King, Miss Saigon and The Buddy Holly Story to name a few, as well as hitting the road to tour with productions of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Martin Guerre. With all of that under his belt, Crawford’s still impressed by the power of Jesus Christ Superstar.
“I think this particular production, which is the 50th anniversary tour that’s heralded and helmed by our director, Timothy Sheader, is sort of the high octane sort of love letter to that original brown album,” he said. “There’s a lot of amazing depth. The voices are fantastic and it’s been coming along — it’s been very exciting putting things together. From the first day of rehearsal where everything sort of separated and we were learning our own parts in our own rehearsal rooms, we’ve been beginning to put the beginning of the show together and then the middle of the show together. One of my favorite times in rehearsal is when we were all in awe of each other and we realized how good and beautiful this score is.”
Crawford seems to be enjoying the excitement of launching the 50th anniversary tour, reflecting on the reactions of people in his own circle once they heard the news.
“It’s been an honor, because this show is so beloved by people across the country,” he said. “When it came out that it was happening and then when friends and family found out, I was going to be a part of it, it was sort of 10-15 minute long stories about how they heard it when they were kids and how their parents used to play the recording — the original brown album — and that they couldn’t wait to see it. So it’s actually a pleasure to bring it across the country.”
One thing that audiences will notice with this production is the diversity of the cast on stage. Continuing in what seems to be the current trend, Jesus Christ Superstar assembles the talents of a more diverse team, including multiple people of color from various backgrounds, both personally and professionally.
“I love working with diversity. I think diversity is really important and I think that they’ve done a great job of illustrating diversity in our show,” Crawford exclaimed. “There are many different shades and colors and body types. I think that represents what Jesus Christ would welcome into his lot, and I think — especially for a show like this, that’s been embraced the world over — it’s a really beautiful representation of that. So it’s been great actually, and we all come from different backgrounds. There’s a lot of people who come from classical music, like I do, and classical dance. Then, there’s hip-hop dancers and musical theatre dancers and the same thing goes with the actual singing. We’ve got some REAL rock-n-roll singers, we’ve got some real R&B singers, and we’ve got some classical singers and it’s just a big ole, multicultural salad I guess — and it’s exactly what Jesus Christ would want.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask Crawford about any reservations or internal conflict he may have working with a production featuring a white Jesus, particularly given the diversity of the cast, but he’s not bothered by it.
“Personally, I look at it as playing a character,” he explained. “I think that Jesus Christ Superstar is — because it was written a long time ago, 50 years ago. I think that my signing on is--we’re doing the vision of our director. I don’t have a conflict with portraying a white Jesus because that’s what the show was. I look at it as a period piece. But I think this production has done such a beautiful job of making it relevant for today, but the structure of the piece is still a white Jesus. And I don’t think that is the focus of the piece actually. I think the focus of the piece is the celebratory act of the music. I think we’re telling a story that happens to be of biblical tense, but what people are coming back for all these years is the music and celebration of the music honestly.”
As opening night draws closer, Crawford and the cast continue to put the final touches on what is expected to be a spectacular production.
“I think that we are very excited to hit the road and to get down there to Austin,” Crawford exclaimed. “People are gonna really enjoy the show; because the many times I’m in rehearsal, when we start putting these scenes together — everybody’s energized from just watching the scenes at rehearsal. Not with costumes or lighting or sets. We can only imagine how that’s going to heighten it. We’re so excited to hit the road, honestly.”
Alvin Crawford and Jesus Christ Superstar will be on stage at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas from October 8 to 13, 2019. Tickets stars at $30 and are available at BroadwayinAustin.com, texasperformingarts.org, and the Bass Concert Hall ticket office.
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.