As most good ideas do, this one started over a beer. Theater director Thom Watson was having a drink with theater friends, when they realized the 20th anniversary of their production of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Chocolate Church in Bath was fast approaching.
Someone suggested they round everybody up and do it again.
What seemed like a good idea at the time has become reality. Watson and the Chocolate Church Arts Center assembled nearly all of the original cast for a 20th anniversary concert of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. They’ll perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Chocolate Church.
“We cast around to see who was still around, and almost everybody was,” said Watson, who returns in his role as director. “Everybody still has their pipes, and everyone is enthusiastic about it.”
This will be a staged concert. There are no sets, no costumes, no acting. The performers will stand on risers and step forward for their solos. A band will perform down front, off stage to the left of the audience. “It’s just simply the music, which is fine by us. That’s the whole story anyway,” he said.
The musical is loosely based on the last week of Jesus’ life, highlighting the conflict between Jesus and Judas. It opened on Broadway in 1971. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright” became radio hits, and the original cast album topped the Billboard charts.
Among those who partook of the beer that hatched the idea was Mark McNeil, who returns as music director. Original cast members reprising their 1997 roles include Ron Bouffard of Boothbay as Jesus, Gregory Charette of Portland as Judas, Teresa Henderson of Gardiner as Mary Magdalene, John York of South Portland as Pontius Pilate, Sheldon Bird of Bath as Caliphas, Sumner Richards of Damariscotta as Annas, Marc Rodriguez of Bath as Peter and Dennis Doiron of Phippsburg as Simon Zealots. Ben Proctor of Brunswick joins the cast as King Herod.
In all, including the ensemble, more than two dozen members of the original cast will sing this weekend.
Bouffard is treating these concerts as a challenge. He’s remained active in Maine theater, from Portland through the midcoast. He’s taken care of his voice, but this show is a unique test, especially for an older singer.
His first reaction when asked to rejoin the cast?
“I thought, ‘That sounds great except we’re all 20 years older.’ Singing the same music when you are 50 as when you are 30 is very different,” Bouffard said. “As a singer, there are different strategies involved. Back then, it was a lot easier to do.”
That said, the cast has risen to the challenge. Bouffard said the first rehearsal with everybody “was like riding a bike. You sort of get back on and do it again.”
He compared “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Rent” — a generational musical that began as a cult hit and grew into a controversial cultural phenomenon. “So many of us have a connection to it because of it being one those first 1970s rock musicals. It was one of the first Broadway musicals that crossed over the pop line.”
Watson remembers the original Chocolate Church production in 1997 as a wonderful show. “We had a scene designer who designed the show on multiple levels to look like a Roman temple. The costumes were splendid,” he said.
Back then, Watson extended the stage to make more room for the dancers, who ascended from below through trap doors. “It was very dramatic and a lot fun,” Watson said.
This one will be a lot of fun, too, paced by the drama and nostalgia of old friendships.
WHERE: Chocolate Church Arts Center, 804 Washington St., Bath
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS & INFO: $12 advance, $15 door; chocolatechurcharts.org, 442-8455