What’s the buzz? ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at National Theatre marks homecoming for Virginia native

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at National Theatre (Part 1)

He understudied the role of Jesus in his Woodson High School production of “Godspell.”

The North American Tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" visits National Theatre. (Courtesy Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

Now, a Fairfax, Virginia, native comes home for “Jesus Christ Superstar” at National Theatre this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I grew up going to shows at the National all the time, so I’m really, really excited to be able to do a show there and to have so many teachers, friends, colleagues and family come to see it,” Jack Hopewell told WTOP.

“People who aren’t as familiar with it would assume that it’s just a retelling of the New Testament, and to some extent it is, but the best way you could describe the plot is the last days of Jesus Christ as told through the eyes of Judas Iscariot.”

The show was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who couldn’t get funding for a stage musical, so they released it as a concept album in 1970 voiced by Ian Gillan of the band Deep Purple.

When it topped the Billboard charts ahead of Carole King’s “Tapestry,” the show was quickly turned into a 1971 Broadway musical starring Jeff Fenholt and Ben Vereen and a 1973 Hollywood movie starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson.

“My mom would play the 1971 brown album all the time in the car,” Hopewell said. “I remember being sat down when I was like six or seven to watch the movie.

My mom was raised on it, as was I, so I’ve always been listening to those artists that came before me. … The first thing our director Tim Sheader said was, ‘Forget anything that came before you. … Imagine if you were a rock star going through this story of fame and then dismissal by the crowd.”

Likewise, you’ll hear all of your favorite rock-opera numbers belted to the rafters at the National Theatre.

“[‘What’s the Buzz’] right out of the gate, that’s great,” Hopewell said. “There’s ‘Heaven on Their Minds,’ one of my favorites with that guitar riff. There’s ‘Superstar,’ that’s the one that even if you were living in a shoe box you’d know what ‘Superstar’ is.

There’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ that was covered by a couple of famous artists back in the ’80s, that is the Mary Magdalene song. … It is just such a fantastic soundtrack from start to finish.”

The rock music isn’t the only anachronistic element — don’t expect the period wardrobe of biblical times.

“People coming in with the idea that they’re going to be transported 2,000 years ago to Jerusalem and Jesus is going to walk out in a long, flowing robe — it’s not that kind of production,” Hopewell said.

“This is staged much more like a rock concert. … You’re gonna see more streetwear, leather and modern clothing. In terms of staging, it’s somewhat minimalist but industrial. … Everybody is dancing their hearts out and it is absolutely mesmerizing.”

He said the powerful themes are universal despite its iconoclastic presentation.

“The show brings something to people of all faiths,” Hopewell said. “My girlfriend is Jewish and has no idea about the New Testament … but was absolutely immersed in the story.

People who are Christian and really strong in their faith, I think they can take away something really beautiful. … I don’t think it’s blasphemous to portray Jesus as a somewhat flawed human, because I think that just adds to the concept of somebody sacrificing themselves.”

Find ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at National Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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