As the season of Lent is at hand, Christians take the time to reflect on their lives and to repent for their sins. It’s also an appropriate time of year to produce Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s famous rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” (JCS), opening February 27, 2015 at True North Cultural Arts.
Director Maryann Nagel graciously takes the time to answer some questions about her journey with the show, and her own faith.
Kate Miller: How did you get involved with True North and with this particular production? Is JCS a production you’ve done before?
Maryann Nagel: I became involved at True North at least 5 years ago. I directed several shows over three of those years, “Ten Cents A Dance”, “The Diary Of Anne Frank”, “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Billy Bishop Goes To War” and several children’s education pieces. I, myself, have been in this show twice and always in the wonderful ensemble. JCS has always been a favorite piece of mine. I find it one of the best pieces by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. In fact, quite frequently you will hear musical references of this show in many of their other collaborations.
KM: What directorial angles are you taking on this production to make it one-of-a-kind? It is such a well-known and often-done piece, that it is interesting to see what each director brings to each show.
MN: In my collaboration with my technical and costume designers, we have chosen to be minimal and let the music, lights and nuances of this music stand out. This way the text of the lyrics (the Gospels) are featured. The set pieces reflect the steel of the mills of Lorain. The wood of course represents the crucifix and the textured columns the Temples of Jerusalem. We use pita bread, a chalice and palm fronds as props. The costumes take us from present day 2015 backwards to biblical dress. We create by blocking and choreography an inclusiveness with the audience. Sometimes it will be uncomfortable for them, but it is no less uncomfortable when we sing the Stations of The Cross in unison, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Sometimes I can barely sing those words at Good Friday services. Lighting-wise this is rock and roll so we are making it a rock concert type of feeling.
KM: What does JCS mean to you as a director and as a person? How do you approach this show with your own beliefs in mind?
MN: Looking at True North’s season I asked Rick Fortney, the producer at True North, if he might consider me to direct this piece. He agreed and spoke of people of ‘faith’ that he needed at the helm of this show. I invited Anthony Trifiletti and Jessie Cope Miller as my collaborators. All three of us are people of GREAT faith. Anthony and I happen to be Catholic and Jessie Episcopal.
I approached this show with great interest in showing that Jesus was human. A man with all human characteristics like anger, doubt, fear, faith, belief in family and duty to your Father. My own beliefs are cemented in the fact that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and suffered these great insults and injuries to save all mankind.
My design team includes Susan Hughes (sets), Justin Bilewitz (costumes), Jessie Cope Miller (choreographer) and Anthony Trifiletti (musical director, conductor and rehearsal pianist.) The True North staff includes Tobias Peltier (lighting) and Stan Kozak (sound.) My stage manager is the incredible Justine Schneider.
KM: As a director, how do you approach the rehearsal process in general with a big cast like this?
MN: We have had to work as one big unit as this ensemble does not leave the stage much and sings most of the show. We are 22 strong from all over the Northeast Ohio area. Quite a few people are sacrificing a lot of gasoline to get here. You will notice in this show that we have people of ages, skill levels and faiths, plus we have children, as Jesus was always talking about and around children. That was important to me in casting this show.
It is interesting that many of my cast members have said to me that this experience has either been on their ‘bucket’ list to perform, has changed or deepened their own beliefs or opened their minds to new views. As Judas says, “My mind is clearer now, at last I can see where we all soon will be.”
KM: What are your show dates, times, and prices? How can audiences most easily learn more about coming to see you?
MN: Our shows run February 27 – March 15, 2015 with shows on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. andn Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Patrons can get ticket information by calling 440-949-5200 x221. They can also go to the True North website for more information HERE.
Please come experience for yourselves the powerful music and inspirational commitment by this cast. Make it your Lenten journey in faith.
True North Cultural Arts is located at the French Creek Nature & Arts Center, 4530 Colorado Ave., Sheffield Village, OH 44054.