By Collin Urban
The Rutgers-NJIT Theater Arts Program opened up the Jim Wise Theater last week to put on the famous rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Student-actors from both NJIT and Rutgers worked together to put on the production, which ran from Wednesday to Sunday. The play itself was originally a Broadway production and is a dramatization of the last week of Jesus Christ’s life before his crucifixion.
Inspired by events that are 2000 years old and penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1970, director Michele Rittenhouse chose the play for its timeless message and appeal. Rittenhouse wanted viewers of the production to see the issues of the play in their own lives. “What made him an enemy of the state?” asked Rittenhouse, “He was a truth-teller.”
The director likened the oppression of Jerusalem under Roman rule to the war and strife in the modern Middle East. He felt the play was especially topical given today’s political climate where people are often persecuted for telling the truth.
The actors agreed with the director’s ideas behind the play, citing the message of the play itself as a key inspiration for their acting. For many of the actors, getting into character meant getting into the mindset of the characters they were playing by understanding the emotional and ethical reasons for each character’s action. One actor noted that each person portrayed in the production was a real, living person in addition to being a religious figure. Empathizing with the motivations of the characters was therefore key to playing the role.
As for the costume design, the rational was that the various anachronisms, such as characters wearing suits, ties, and jeans during the Classical Roman period, added to the timelessness of the production. The production truly was a rock opera, with the outfits of the various Apostles resembling those of a groupie, and the set looking like a rock concert stage.
According to the production manager, Director Rittenhouse asked for a set design that was reminiscent of Mad Max, a movie series set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. To fulfill this vision, the production team created a set that was made of “Sand and steel,” because those two things made up a large part of the world of Mad Max. Despite this unusual direction, the play managed to have a set that was a rock concert hall and a sandy patch of Judea at the same time.
Since the unification of the theater programs of Rutgers and NJIT in 1993, the Rutgers-NJIT Theater Arts Program has striven to educate the students of both institutions on theater. This most recent production is yet another notch on a venerable belt.