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L.A. Beat

University ready to rock Jesus Christ Superstar

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The University of Lethbridge brings Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s popular  rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to the stage just in time for Easter, though the timing is purely coincidental as is  the musical’s proximity to its fiftieth anniversary.



 The popular movie was released in 1973, though the musical was first performed in 1971.

 Jesus Christ Superstar runs March 12-16 in University Theatre.


“The fact that is close to Easter was a serendipitous surprise,” said director Doug MacArthur.

“You need strong singers for this  show,” MacArthur said.


“It’s a rock opera, so there is no dialogue. Everything is sung,” MacArthur said, adding he is pleased with the cast and crew, who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to the production.

“ It’s a big show,” MacArthur said, adding there are  25 cast members and 12 musicians, who have been rehearsing since Jan. 8.


The ranks of close to 50 people including backstage crew include University of Lethbridge music and drama students plus prominent community members including musical director Bente Hansen, Sandra Stringer and Jillian Bracken who plays Judas as well as choreographer Madisan Cowan from Van Dance and New West Theatre, plus Hootenanny veteran and assistant director  Ahona Sanyal.


“ The show focuses on the last week of Jesus Christ’s life. It is somewhat narrated  by Judas who becomes sort of a sympathetic character, as much as he can be,” he said.

“ I’ve always wanted to do a musical. Students love doing them,” MacArthur said, adding he can’t remember the University of Lethbridge  putting on an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical during his tenure at the university.

“ It’s really  exciting and spectacular. There has been a lot of student collaboration,” he said, adding working  on a large scale musical  like Jesus  Christ Superstar is great experience   for the students which translates well to  the outside world.

“ After I graduated, I went on to work in the TV and film industry,” said costume designer Patricia “Peach” Jonzon, whose crew  either created or pulled 94 separate costume pieces for the show including collars,  coats, scarves and ponchos.


“There’s a lot of dancing because it’s a musical and a lot of people on stage, so we made it as easy as possible to change costumes,” Jonzon said.

“Caiaphas is a Jewish high priest who feels threatened by Jesus’ increasing popularity and he worries people will rally around Jesus  and challenge the authority of the high priests. So the villains are quite dark, so they are dressed in black and very strict looking versus Jesus who is  very soft looking. He’s in light colours and his clothing is  very loose like the free thinking and new ideas he brings,” Jonzon said.


 “ We made Pontius Pilate like a mob boss . The Romans, are dressed in tracksuits like tracksuit gangsters. They are thugs and they look menacing ” Jonzon continued.

Jesus Christ Superstar is set in somewhat contemporary  times, though the characters aren’t really hippies like in the movie.


“Jesus’s followers are are people of  the Earth. They aren’t bohemian, but they have a bohemian flair  They are spiritual seekers. It’s not really contemporary,  they’re the every person,” MacArthur said.

The set design has been  in the works for almost a year.


“ The main set is a place of worship that feels like it has been around for a long time,” MacArthur said.

 Set designer Dave Smith said  the main set of  a church’s stone archway, plus several  fly in flats on a pulley system is the biggest  paint job he has ever done  for a set.

Doug MacArthur looks at costume designs for Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Richard Amery

“Doug and I started discussing what the set would look like in July and my set design class have been building it throughout the Spring Semester. And there are still touch ups that need to be done,” he said.

“We wanted  to give the set a timeless feel so there’s no religious iconography so it doesn’t look like it takes place in a specific time period,” Smith said.


“The set has a very lively feel,” Smith said.


“ When Jesus is crucified it looks very lonely,” he said indicating a platform on stage right where the crucifixion takes place.


“The character of Jesus is a person of radical peace. I hope people will come to the show and enjoy it and that it will generate some discussion,” MacArthur said.

Tickets are $18 regular, $13 seniors and alumni, $12 students and children for all evening performances. Tickets are available online: or at the University Box Office, located in the Atrium in the Centre for the Arts. All ULethbridge students are eligible for one complimentary ticket with their student ID at the Box Office. 

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor

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