Director Bryon Fear and Musical Director Gerard Johnson talk about their love for this enduring musical, which they’re bringing to life from August 23 in the Main Hall at Stanley Halls.
Bryon – it’s been said recently that this show was ripe for revival and you evidently felt the same?
For SLT it was an accidental revival. We couldn’t get the rights for either the small play I’d opted to direct for this year’s season, or our scheduled musical. I thought it would be a real shame not to have a musical this year, so I started to research small cast musicals that we could stage at Stanley Halls. During that process I kept going back and listening to one of my favourite musicals of all time, and dared to ask if the rights were available. When I was told they were, I just had to try and get it off the ground. That’s when I approached Gerard Johnson.
What’s so special about it for you both?
With a show this big, you need to work with people who are passionate about the project because it inevitably becomes all-consuming. I knew Gerard particularly loved this show and that was my first piece of great luck. He is immensely talented and I could not have done this show without him, or without Anna Callendar my choreographer, I don’t have the words to express how brilliant I think they are, or the respect that I have for them both!
Gerard – you’ve done several musicals with SLT in the past, but this is a show with which you’ve had a long personal history – how’s that felt?
Well, for a start that’s why I’m doing it! Bryon originally asked me whether I was free to MD an unspecified musical in August, and I said “no, I’m going on holiday”. When he said it was Superstar, I realised I had to rearrange my whole summer. I’ve wanted to do this show for nearly four decades – I saw the original West End production a dozen times, and I learned to play the piano by bashing out the songs from it over and over. So to actually do the work on it – getting inside the music, working with our wonderful cast to bring the songs to life – has been fantastic. It’s another item ticked off the bucket list for me.
Bryon – what are the challenges of directing a musical like this?
Scale is definitely one of them. The whole premise of the show is epic … you don’t get more epic than the story of Christ’s last days before his crucifixion. On a theatrical scale of 1-10, most musicals are a ten, but this one goes to 11.
What’s the best part of your job as director?
It’s definitely the collaborative creative process of bringing an artistic vision to life. As a director you get to dream up a vision of what you would like the end product to be, and then you get to work with all the incredibly talented people on your creative team who make it happen. SLT has a history of producing high quality shows, so as a director you always tend to aim high. In this instance I’ve had such great luck with a cast who’ve worked tirelessly to be the very best they can be, and they are astonishing; a crew who have made everything so jaw-droppingly impressive, and a band who have exceeded all expectations. The short answer to the question is people, who make the magic happen.
What do you think the appeal of this show is for our audience?
I think what makes this show special is that it’s so accessible, with the most gorgeous type of rock-pop music that will appeal to most people. Regardless of who the characters are, at the core of the story is friendship, love and betrayal – all things that we’ve probably experienced or at least can relate to, and in the context of this story it becomes incredibly moving.
Tell us a little about your enormous cast.
They’re a truly talented group of individuals who’ve come from many different places (even continents). Many are new to SLT and will be better known for their work with other theatres across London, so I’m delighted that they’ve joined our company to stage this show. We also have SLT members who haven’t been on stage for years, and others that thought they wouldn’t tread the boards again, but are doing so magnificently. Everyone has been so lovely and professional; it’s rare, even when working on a small scale show, to have a happy harmonious team – but when it happens with a cast and crew of 45, it’s really quite humbling and you can’t help but feel blessed!
Photos © RubyLdn
Directed by Bryon Fear with Musical Direction by Gerard Johnson Jesus Christ Superstar plays in the Main Hall Tuesday, August 23 – Saturday, August 27 at 8pm with an additional matinee at 2pm on the Saturday.