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SMTD's Jesus Christ Superstar: a Review

Note: The show features heavy drug and alcohol usage, as well as graphic depictions of violence, suicide, and self-harm. Viewer discretion is advised.
Photo Courtesy of Crystal Orser

On February 14th, 2024, the lights dimmed on Varner’s Studio Theater as the final dress rehearsal for a historical run of Jesus Christ Superstar began. The 1 hour and 35-minute show was an immersive experience of lights, colors, and sounds as we were guided on the path to the crucifixion. Every detail was meticulously thought out, from the words “Teach Peace” painted on the floor to the “Jesus and Judas 4 eva” scrawled across the staircase. Every bit of the show brought the technicolor seventies to the infamous story we know so well.

Under the glowing lights, as we are introduced to our titular character, murmurs fill the audience. Everyone waits on bated breath for what has truly elevated this run of Jesus Christ Superstar from becoming just another accolade in the growing list of achievements that our beloved Varner Hall has accomplished. What makes this a truly historic run is the fact that this cast features two well-known male characters (Jesus and Judas) being played by women.

This controversial casting decision comes to the delight and excitement of the cast, with Christian LeFaive, playing Caiphas, saying “I am very exhilarated that we are breaking these boundaries because the magic of live theater comes from the characters you’re playing, not whose playing them, and I think that it’s good to break these walls and say that ‘Hey, anybody can be anybody’ in theater.” In the words of Chris Brannon, “The fact that we gender bent it is very exciting in the fact that it can open people up to new stories.”

Paul Butterfield agrees, adding that “In past theater performances I have done more traditional routes, and I do enjoy those, however, I think that it creates kind of a new show, whether it’s gender or religion, and brings a whole new show that’s unique to our show.”

Faith Green, the actress for Jesus, explained her thoughts on the casting choice going into the show. “It feels crazy and surreal. It’s really exciting to do something that pisses people off, not to a crazy extent, but people have had pushback. And it’s cool because it’s new, it’s interesting. It’s a show that’s been done a million different times, a million different ways, so to switch up the casting really makes it new. The thing I keep saying (to those unsupportive) is that when I was in The Little Mermaid, I played a fish, and no one seemed to be bothered by the fact that I’m not a fish, so when I play a man, so come on, like, I know I’m not a man, but that’s kind of not the important part.”

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Orser

Rachel Nesbitt, the actress for Judas, says “It feels really great. It feels really good to give a fresh perspective on someone who we know to be a betrayer, but it feels good to give motive and understanding to that. It’s interesting because I try to root it (my performance) in truth, and try to find his reasons and his humanity for doing what he did. I do not think it was malicious, and I try to convey that on stage. It feels really good that we’re in a good spot in our show, and it feels good that we’re at a good point in our show. I know we made some people angry, I know we made some people upset, and I really hope that they come to see the show and maybe we’ll change their minds.”

Rachel Nesbitt (Judas) had some advice to give to young theater majors looking to do what she did as well. “Don’t stop. You’re gonna have doubts. I had doubts, I had points where I questioned if I should be doing this. Don’t stop. Keep going.”

All in all, the Varner Studio Theater’s run of Jesus Christ Superstar is equal parts sacred and blasphemous. It is a symbol of the holiness and sin inherent in only man, as we walk the same path as Jesus and his Disciples while they prepare for the fall of the Lord.


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