King Or Just A Man?

King Or Just A Man?

APT’s ‘Superstar’ a very vulnerable human


Photo courtesy Lori Updyke Collier
Pontius Pilate (Rusty Turner) washes his hands of the King of the Jews (Michael Myers) as the crowd chants “Crucify him!”

Theater fans expect Michael Myers to be larger than life — a corset-wearing transvestite in 6-inch heels in “The Rocky Horror Show,” an acerbic God in “An Act of God,” or a flamboyant “dancing queen” in “Mamma Mia.”

Myers is stretching his vast talent in the Arkansas Public Theatre production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” His Jesus is a gentle, quiet, almost understated character who embodies the love, patience and peace of the New Testament.

In spite of the divine nature of the role, this is very much a mortal man, feeling the joy, sorrow, fear and failure of the last days of his life.

“This is the most challenging role I’ve yet to face in my acting career,” Myers says. “You see him be human when he gets frustrated with his disciples because they don’t comprehend what he is trying to tell them — that he has to die. Then you see Jesus in Gethsemane, and he is conflicted and scared. With all of his passion and focus, he once again accepts his mission.

“Sometimes I get emotional singing in rehearsals,” he adds. “Being so vulnerable and passionate on a stage is challenging and terrifying, but Jesus and I are on a mission.”

On the other hand, if you know Justin Stewart, you know he is gentle and soft-spoken and nothing like Judas. And he’s working hard to bring that side of himself to the stage, to create a character that is much more complex than simply evil. It’s part of what brought him back for Round Two: He played Judas at this theater when he was in college.

“I came back because of the raw intensity of this production,” he says. “It does give me an overwhelming spiritual pulse when performing this on stage with my cast mates.”

Photo courtesy Lori Updyke Collier
Alix Keil, portraying Mary Magdalene, remembers carrying the cross down the aisle in her church on Maundy Thursday. “The physical weight of the cross taught us of the weight of the night,” she says. Michael Myers is Jesus in the APT production opening Feb. 8.

That might be the theme of this production. Alix Keil is searching for humanity in her Mary Magdalene — “I believe that she is the only person who truly understands Jesus and what he must do; in the end, that means accepting his destiny,” she says — and even Rusty Turner as Pontius Pilate has a moment in the song “Trial By Pilate” where he looks sad and tired and confused, wondering aloud why Christ’s followers have turned on him. The chants of “Crucify him, crucify him” shake the roof of APT and promise to leave audiences equally shaken.

“I grew up with my dad reading me the Bible every night and talking through Jesus’ lessons about humanity, doing the right thing and his sacrifice,” Keil says. “One of the very last things he said to me before he passed away was that I shouldn’t be sad he was dying; because Jesus died for us, we would be together again. It is absolutely tough to leave [this] at the theater.”

“I have been a fan of this show for 50 years,” says director Ed McClure. “For a show that is 50 years old, it always feels fresh and new and modern. The challenges are telling an oft-told story in a way that it feels relevant and important today.

“The cast has embraced every aspect of this production, from the rock musical style to the urban style dancing to the modern interpretation, costuming and set design,” he adds. “I could not be more proud of this cast and crew.”

If there is a moment played mostly for laughs, it’s “King Herod’s Song” with Michael Weir as the singing and dancing despot. But behind that is another example of the show’s depth.

“It does give me pause when I consider that the person to whom my character is directing an angry and mocking tone is, in reality, the center of my spiritual existence and whose teachings are the basis of how I live my everyday life,” Weir says. “It’s not often that I’m in a show where I have such a close personal connection.”



‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Feb. 8-9; 2 p.m. Feb. 10; again Feb. 14-17 & 21-24

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers

COST — $28/$39

INFO — 631-8988

Categories: Cover Story