Entertainment Highlights: NCCT Presents Popular Rock Opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
Sam Coxon of Wilder as Jesus, right, teaches a crowd of eager followers during the song Heaven on their Minds during North Country Community Theatre’s rehearsal of Jesus Christ Superstar at Hartford High School on Tuesday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Music Director Hal Sheeler rehearses difficult parts of the music with the orchestra before the rehearsal Tuesday night. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Ensemble member Noah Soderquist of Hanover, 14, and Eric Mead of Hanover, who is playing Judas, sing together to Heaven on their Minds, the first song in the rock opera. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Kymberly Byerly of Norwich, right, fluffs up the curls on Neal Cronce of White River Junction, who is playing the part of Caiaphas. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
There was a time when a winter show was a fixture in the North Country Community Theatre’s annual calendar. Then, life got in the way.
The all-volunteer theater troupe has carried on with its annual summer production, but struggled to find people committed to putting on a second production.
“They just kind of fell off the wayside, whether it’s a lack of interest … or people being away, or not having enough people to audition,” said NCCT board member Bill Sawyer.
Tonight, under his direction, the long winter drought ends, when the company opens Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar at Hartford High School. The rock musical continues tomorrow and Saturday. As Sawyer and others involved in Jesus Christ Superstar spread the word about the production, they found, as Sawyer said, that “there’s been a lot of energy around this show from the beginning.” People were excited to see NCCT take on a winter production, but even more so that the show would be Jesus Christ Superstar.
Take Neal Cronce, for instance. The Hartford Memorial Middle School teacher’s love for the rock opera stretches back to the mid-’70s, a few years after it was first performed on Broadway. when he heard the soundtrack album as a high school senior. Cronce was immediately drawn to the voice of Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem who makes the case for killing Jesus. It was the first time he had heard such a deep voice sing rock ’n roll.
Listening to the soundtrack got Cronce through his summer job at a candy factory. “I was like, There’s a story here, too. And it’s probably one of the best stories of all time,” said Cronce, who is playing Caiaphas in the NCCT production.
First performed more than 40 years ago, Jesus Christ Superstar is no typical stage musical. It’s a rock opera with no dialogue, with challenging vocal roles, especially for the actors playing Jesus and Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrays Jesus to the authorities. “Honestly, people thought it would be hard to find voices” for those parts, Sawyer said. So Sawyer and the production staff traveled further afield in the region for actors to join the production, and reached out to Dartmouth’s alumni base in the Upper Valley.
Jesus Christ Superstar is an ambitious production for a community theater group, but ambition is exactly what Sawyer had in reviving the NCCT winter show. Many community musicals are light and breezy, but delving into this Webber and Tim Rice-penned production, based on the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ final days, allows the troupe to “play a little bit more on the edge and take into consideration the real idea of theater,” Sawyer said.
Once the roles had been cast, performers spent a good two months with music director Hal Sheeler, nailing down the music before blocking their movements. Most of the cast was already familiar with the musical, Sheeler said, so his approach “was to get them to really have all the harmony notes, so this would be more than just a community production.”
Jesus is played by Sam Coxon, a recent graduate of The Sharon Academy who’s taking a gap year before entering McGill University in Montreal. Though he’d never performed in NCCT’s teen musicals as a high school student, Coxon saw a Facebook post calling for actors and decided to give it a shot.
His antagonist as Judas is Eric Mead, a 2010 graduate of Hanover High School who logged four years of NCCT teen performances.
Though it’s the same theater company, Mead said that preparing a musical with other adults is an entirely new experience, with a different rehearsal schedule — NCCT teen performers use their winter vacation week to prepare their musical — and a change in venue, from the Lebanon Opera House to Hartford High. Then there’s the opportunity to play a complex character in what Mead called “an extremely well-written” musical.
Of playing Judas, Mead said the audience will “make up their minds about me very easily, just because of the words, the context, the story everyone knows.”
While Jesus Christ Superstar makes clear who its hero and antagonist are, a recurring theme throughout, and one that made it controversial when it premiered, is what Sawyer called “the whole question of whether Jesus is a God-like entity or a man.” It’s a question that the show explores, but doesn’t attempt to definitively answer.
“Pretty quickly, you go from thinking about the overarching figure, the most Biblical, macroscopic view of the man, to just how you have to play the character … It’s easy to focus on what you’re doing on stage and not who you are on stage,” Coxon said.
What people can expect from Jesus Christ Superstar, Sawyer said, is the opportunity to be entertained, and surprised, even if they’ve seen the show many times before.
“We believe 90 percent of the people in the crowd know the show anyway. The ones that do are going to expect certain things,” Sawyer said. His advice, he added, is to “expect the unexpected.”
“Jesus Christ Superstar” will be performed at 7:30 tonight through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hartford High School ($15-$30; visit www.seatyourself.biz/ncct to purchase tickets).
A journey to Never Land is in the offing for the young, and the young at heart, as Peter Pan opens tomorrow night at Northern Stage in White River Junction. The musical, based on the story by J.M. Barrie, is directed by Connor Gallagher and features many young performers from the Upper Valley, including Trevor Siegel, a fifth-grader at the Ray School in Hanover, in the role of John Darling. Visit www.northernstage.org for show times and to purchase tickets.
■ The holidays are here, and it’s time for Lebanon’s City Center Ballet company to perform Clara’s Dream, a Nutcracker adaptation in which the Nutcracker Prince slays the Mouse King and escorts Clara to the Land of the Sweets. Grantham’s Becky Dore is Clara and Theo Pilette of Grafton, Vt., is the Nutcracker Prince in Clara’s Dream, which will be performed at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lebanon Opera House ($10-$15, advance; $15-$20, at the door).
■ The Eclipse Grange Shorts, first performed at the Thetford theater in September, will return in a holiday-themed show to the Eclipse Grange at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. It’s based on public radio’s Selected Shorts program. Upper Valley actors Rebecca Bailey, Laine Gillespie, Kurt Feuer, Will Giblin and Kevin Fitzpatrick will perform staged readings of works by Chekhov, Robert Penn Warren, Grace Paley, Willem Lange and others. The readings continue Dec. 15 and 16 at the Eclipse Grange Theater ($12, adults; $10, students).
■ Most people probably don’t associate steel guitars with gospel music, but the instrument forms the backbone of gospel songs performed by The Campbell Brothers, who perform a holiday concert at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre ($33, advance; $35, day of show). The Campbell Brothers’ appearance kicks off the town’s annual Wassail Weekend celebration, which includes the annual holiday house tour at 9:30 a.m. Saturday ($30, advance; $35 day of show) and a performance by The Ten, an all-male a capella group from New York City, at 3 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the First Congregational Church of Woodstock. Wassail Weekend concludes at 4 p.m. Sunday, with the annual Messiah Sing at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Woodstock.
■ Roots rock is the specialty of Enter the Haggis, a Toronto band currently touring in support of their new album, Whitelake. The group comes to Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction at 8 p.m. tomorrow ($22).
Music can be heard just about anywhere you go in White River Junction tomorrow night. The First Friday celebration will see The Revitones and David Greenfield perform in the Tip Top Building; Juliana Nicole, Second Wind and Jennifer Ulz at the Tuckerbox Cafe; Anderson & Dates at the Tip Top Pottery studio; and SweetGrass at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio.
The 38th annual Revels North holiday celebration, to be performed Dec. 13 through 16 at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, takes on an Irish theme this year under first-time director Helena Binder. This year’s show is set in 1907 aboard the Glenna Troy as a group of immigrants en route to New York celebrate the Christmas holiday with traditional Irish music and dance. Performances are at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 through 15, at 2 p.m. Dec. 15, and at 1 and 5 p.m. on Dec. 16 in Spaulding Auditorium ($23-$38).
Four bands that are no strangers to Upper Valley stages — Jester Jigs, The Wheelers, The Delta 88s and KatHedLok — will team up for “Lend a Hand,” a Hurricane Sandy relief concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tupelo Music Hall ($20).
Cellist Philip Liston-Kraft joins pianist Daniel Weiser for “Fabulous Four Hand: Vodka and Caviar,” a concert of Russian music at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon ($20). They’ll also perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hanover home of Marilyn and Alan Austin Nelson; to reserve tickets for the house concert, email email@example.com.
Kathy Lowe and Friends perform a holiday and winter solstice-themed concert at tomorrow night’s Sunapee Community Coffeehouse, beginning at 7 in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church.
■ Singer-songwriters Cindy Geilich and Betsy Stewart perform in the next installment of the Sunday morning songwriters series at Stone Arch Bakery in Lebanon, starting at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
The A.R. Gurney comedy Sylvia continues for a second weekend at Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield. Sylvia tells the story of an empty nest couple, and the effect that a dog has on their lives, for good and for ill. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Whitney Hall in Enfield ($25, adults; $20, students).
Bars and Clubs
In addition to his show tonight at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, Jason Cann will perform at Bistro Nouveau in Grantham at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
■ You can find Enfield’s own Brooks Hubbard at Jesse’s Restaurant tomorrow at 6.
■ Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland hosts the Peter Concilio Jazz Trio at 9 p.m. tomorrow.
■ Carlos Ocasio and Frydaddy will rock Salt hill Pub in Lebanon with soul and R&B sounds at 9 p.m. tomorrow. The Blue James Band comes to Salt hill Lebanon at 9 p.m. Saturday, and as always, the pub has live traditional Irish sessions at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
■ The country rock band Hi-Way 5 takes over Salt hill Pub in Newport starting at 9 p.m. tomorrow.
■ Bread Truck Productions brings their tech-rock and hip-hop sound to Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon at 9 p.m. tomorrow.
■ The rock trio The Conniption Fits play Salt hill Pub in Hanover at 9 p.m. tomorrow.
■ Brian Warren plays a set at The Common Man Restaurant in Claremont at 5 p.m. Sunday.
■ These musicians perform at Canoe Club in Hanover: tonight, the jazz duo of Lydia Gray and Ed Eastridge; tomorrow, pianist Robert Craig Baum; Saturday, pianist Gillian Joy; Sunday, jazz trio Cyn Barrette, Steve Ellis and Peter Concilio; Tuesday, classical guitarist Jairo Sequeira; and Wednesday, pianist Keith Bush.
DJ Shar4 hosts a club night at Salt hill Pub in Hanover, starting at 10 p.m. Saturday.
■ Gusanoz Mexican Restaurant in Lebanon hosts a salsa dance night Saturday, with lessons beginning at 8:45 and dancing continuing past midnight.
Open Mics, Jams
Jim Abbott leads a Friday night jam starting at 6:30 at the Building A Local Economy (BALE) office on the South Royalton green.
■ Salt hill Pub in Hanover’s Monday open mic is hosted by Chad Gibbs, and begins at 7.
■ Davey Davis hosts the open mic at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Shepard’s Pie Restaurant on Route 4 in Quechee.
■ Join Gregory Brown for Skunk Hollow Tavern’s open mic at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Entertainment Highlights appears each Thursday. Send notices of upcoming events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Friday, Dec. 7 edition of the Valley News:
North Country Comunity Theatre has produced several fall and winter productions over the last 10 years. An article in yesterday's edition was incorrect on that point.