What began as a 1970’s rock opera concept album became a global stage phenomenon that captured seven Tony Award nominations and countless awards overseas in its 40-plus years.
Jesus Christ Superstar, the beloved rock opera that explores the story and internal struggles of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history - Jesus - is the 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, April 19-May 28, 2017 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.
While thousands of productions have taken the stage in 31 countries, Paramount's is surely the production the theater community in Chicago and around the country will be talking about.
We already know Jesus Christ Superstar features music by the most successful composer of our generation, Andrew Lloyd Webber, with indelible lyrics by Tim Rice. Hits include "Everything's Alright," "Heaven on Their Minds," "Hosanna," "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Superstar."
With nationally recognized director and producer Ron Kellum making his Paramount debut with Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago will be introduced to a director and choreographer whose experience ranges from being an artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA to staging major sports spectacles such as last month's 2017 NFL Pro Bowl halftime show.
Paramount veterans Tom Vendafreddo and Kory Danielson will collaborate as co-music directors in leading the cast and a 14-piece live rock band.
The A-list production design team includes Kevin Depinet, set design; Theresa Ham, costume design; Greg Hofmann, lighting design; Mike Tutaj, projection design; and Adam Rosenthal, sound design.
So what's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happenin'?
Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar will feature an all-black cast led by Broadway and regional musical theater veteran Destan Owens as Jesus of Nazareth. Owens's Broadway credits include Tom Collins in Rent, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Adrian in Smokey Joe's Café and Hawker in The Who's Tommy 15th Anniversary Concert.
Paramount Theatre's Jesus Christ Superstar will be directed by (from left) Ron Kellum. The cast includes Destan Owens (Jesus), Mykal Kilgore (Judas Iscariot), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdalene), Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Pontius Pilate), Avionce Hoyles (King Herod/Annas) and Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Caiaphas).
The ensemble features (pictured above, top, from left) Stephen "Blu" Allen, Jos N. Banks, Ciera Dawn, Gilbert Domally, Candace C. Edwards, Jared D.M. Grant, Keirsten Hodgens, (row 2) Mark J.P. Hood, Reneisha Jenkins, Micheal Lovette, Evan Tyrone Martin, Gabriel Mudd, Brian Nelson Jr., Renellè Nicole, (row 3) Jaymes Osborne, Kafi Pierre, Jon Pierce, Travis Porchia, Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston and Jessica Brooke Seals.
"This is an incredible opportunity to unite the retelling of one of the greatest stories with an iconic piece of musical theater through the voices and lens of my community," said Jesus Christ Superstar director Ron Kellum. "'Why an all-black Superstar?' 'Why not.' Our responsibility as storytellers is to find ways to represent truth in ways that translate to every audience no matter of color, creed, orientation or status. This will be a soul stirring experience!"
"Wait until you hear the voices singing in the grand finale of this season, presented for you in a powerful new production directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum!" said Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti. "I dare to say it speaks to the state of the art as intriguingly as it does to the state of the union! It is a contemporary thrill ride of a production with a cast as beautiful as the vision of its director!"
Jesus Christ Superstar: Dates, times and ticket information
Previews start April 19. Press opening is Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. Performances run through May 28: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $44 to $59. The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, is surrounded by affordable parking and new restaurants for pre- or post-show dining.
For tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to evening performances.
Jesus Christ Superstar is rated PG.
About Jesus Christ Superstar
A rock star stands center stage, awash in lights while tens-of-thousands of adoring fans repeat every word he sings. An endless sea of bodies stands for hours shivering in the freezing temps just to say they were there when the new leader of the free world was sworn in. We love and celebrate our idols; we always have...that is, until we move on to our next idol.
Jesus Christ Superstar is not just the story of the last seven days of the greatest idol in history. It's the story of the close friend who tried to save him and why that friend eventually betrayed him. It's a story of love and fear, of kindness and greed, of expectations and what happens when those expectations are not met.
This is an energized rock opera that delves into the internal struggles of those mortals, those humans - including Jesus himself - as they drew closer to one of the most pivotal moments in history. It's an emotionally-charged journey in which, in the end, each person discovers something about themselves when the stakes are at their highest.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most successful composer of musicals of his generation and also a breaker of molds for the type. His first collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice was Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. The two soon hit on the idea of writing a musical based on the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas, and, like Joseph, imbued with a strong rock and roll influence. Unable to finance a stage version, Lloyd Webber and Rice did manage to record their show, and in 1970, the album Jesus Christ Superstar went on to sell millions all over the world. The musical version debuted on Broadway in 1971, earning 5 Tony nominations and a Drama Desk Award for Sondheim for "Most Promising Composer." The 1973 film version remains a 1970's rock opera cult classic.
Behind the scenes: Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar
Ron Kellum (director) is a seasoned director and producer with experience ranging from sports entertainment to theater, film and television. He serves as a senior producer for e2k, co-director for the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii and co-producer for the NFL Pro Bowl United Way Thanksgiving Halftime Show. Kellum produced the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team Launch at Paramount Studios as well as several high-profile press and VIP events for Monster CES in Las Vegas. His directing and choreography credits included Iron Man 2 starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as the musicals Chicago, The Color Purple, A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Rent, Once on This Island, 5 Guys Named Moe, Ain't Misbehavin' and Smokey Joe's Café. He appeared on Broadway in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Chicago, and he toured nationally in Aida, Dreamgirls, Fosse and Chicago. Learn more at ronkellum.com.
Tom Vendafreddo (co-music director and conductor) is helming his 12th consecutive musical at Paramount, preceded by In the Heights, Mary Poppins, The Who's Tommy, Les Misérables (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Oklahoma! (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), A Christmas Story - The Musical (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, West Side Story (Jeff Nomination, Music Direction), Mamma Mia!, Disney's The Little Mermaid and Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Other credits include Company and Sweet Charity (Writers Theatre); On the Town and Godspell (Marriott Lincolnshire); Road Show and Shrek: The Musical (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Spitfire Grill (BoHo Theatre - Jeff Nomination for Music Direction); and Pump Boys and Dinettes (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre). Regional credits include Rent (San Diego Musical Theatre), Odyssey (Old Globe Theatre), Forever Plaid (Chestnut Fine Arts) and It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Cygnet Theatre). As a cabaret artist, he has performed in Chicago, New York, San Diego and Melbourne. In 2014, he became the Founding Artistic Director of the Chicago Artists Chorale, a choral ensemble of working professionals in the Chicago theatre community. He received a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Music Education from Eastman School of Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University. tomvendafreddo.com
Kory Danielson (co-music director and conductor) is coming back for his 10th consecutive musical at the Paramount, following Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, Hairspray - The Broadway Musical, A Christmas Story - The Musical, Oklahoma!, Les Misérables and The Who's Tommy. Other Chicago credits includeAssassins, The Full Monty, Loving Repeating, Heathers, Tomorrow Morning (Kokandy Productions); Passion (2014 Jeff Award for Outstanding Music Direction), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Theo Ubique); How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Porchlight Music Theatre); Hedwig, Wedding Singer (Haven Theatre); and Zanna, Don't!, Lucky Stiff, Triumph of Love (The Music Theatre Company). Danielson has also worked with Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Bailiwick and Hell in a Handbag.
Paramount's Jesus Christ Superstar production team also includes Trent Stork, associate director; Kafi Pierre, associate choreographer; Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup designer; Amanda Relaford, properties designer; R&D Choreography, Vic Bayona and Rick Gilbert, violence designers; Roger Ellis, dramaturg; Hannah Wichmann, stage manager; and Nora Mally, assistant stage manager.
Jesus Christ Superstar is sponsored by the Daily Herald. Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and The Dunham Fund. Broadway Series Orchestra Sponsor is Rush-Copley Medical Center. Broadway Series Lighting Sponsor is ComEd. Broadway Series Costume Sponsor is Gerald Kia. Jesus Christ Superstar is also sponsored by the Daily Herald.
More about Paramount's 2016-17 Season
In addition to Paramount's 2016-17 Broadway Series finale, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount's season also includes Home Free (Mar. 24), Madeleine Peyroux and Rickie Lee Jones (Mar. 25), Golden Dragon Acrobats (Mar. 26),
Riverdance: 20 Years(Mar. 31-Apr. 2, five shows), Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel (Jun. 10, two shows) and Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was... (Jun. 11). Back in 2016-17 is the Classic Movie Monday series, presenting everyone's favorite flicks on a two-story screen for just $1. Paramount also serves the community with low-cost children's shows designed to entertain while they educate: Miss Nelson is Missing (Mar. 22) and Laura Ingalls Wilder(Mar. 23).
For subscriptions, single tickets or more information, go to ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora.
About the Paramount Theatre
The Paramount Theatre (ParamountAurora.com) is the center for performing arts, entertainment and arts education in Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois. Named "One of Chicago's Top 10 Attended Theatres" by the League of Chicago Theatres, the 1,888-seat Paramount, located in downtown Aurora at 23 E. Galena Blvd., is nationally recognized for the quality and caliber of its presentations, superb acoustics and historic beauty.
The Paramount opened on September 3, 1931. Designed by renowned theater architects C.W. and George L. Rapp, the theater captures a unique Venetian setting portrayed in the art deco influence of the 1930s. The first air-conditioned building outside of Chicago, the Paramount offered the public a variety of entertainment, including "talking pictures," vaudeville, concerts and circus performances for more than 40 years.
In 1976, Aurora Civic Center Authority purchased the Paramount and closed the theater for restoration. The $1.5 million project restored the Paramount to its original grandeur. On April 29, 1978, the Paramount Arts Center opened, offering a variety of theatrical, musical, comedy, dance and family programming. In 2006, a 12,000-square-foot, two-story Grand Gallery lobby was added, with a new, state-of-the-art box office, café and art gallery.
Today, the Paramount self-produces its own Broadway Musical Series, presents an eclectic array of comedy, music, dance and family shows, and on most Mondays, screens a classic movie.
The Paramount Theatre is one of three live performance venues programmed and managed by the Aurora Civic Center Authority (ACCA). ACCA also oversees the Paramount's "sister" stage, the intimate, 173-seat Copley Theatre located directly across the street from the Paramount at 8 E. Galena Blvd., as well as RiverEdge Park, downtown Aurora's summer outdoor concert venue.
The Paramount Theatre continues to expand its artistic and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Tim Rater, President and CEO, Aurora Civic Center Authority; Jim Corti, Artistic Director, Paramount Theatre; a dedicated Board of Trustees and a devoted staff of live theater and music professionals.
For tickets and information, go to ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.
The plot is simple enough. Donna Sheridan raises her daughter Sophie now twenty-years-old, on a Greek island where she runs a small island resort. Sophie, about to get married, wants to be walked down the aisle by her father. Problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is. A bit of snooping through her mother’s diary offers three possibilities, leading her to invite each to her wedding, much to her mother’s chagrin as Bill Austin (Steve O’Connell), Harry Bright (Michael Gillis) and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Diebold) show up to the island where Sophie figures to find out which is her real father. Again, the plot isn’t very complicated. But we do not see Mamma Mia! for its plot, we see it because it’s Abba charged soundtrack is fun, the set and costumes are colorful, the dance numbers are contagious and the show has a good share of laughs. Simple, light and fun - the perfect anecdote to escape from the daily, or not-so-daily, doldrums so many of us endure, if even for two hours and twenty minutes.
Currently running at Paramount Theater in Aurora, we get a production equipped with a slightly different set from the traditional Mamma Mia! look fans have come to known, and it works quite well. Accompanied by a full backdrop flooded with video projections of waves gently making their way to the shoreline and trees with leaves softly blowing in the wind, it’s easy to get lost in the rich island atmosphere. Though the set design limits the larger dance numbers, this production makes it work with its own unique choreography that rivals most other presentations.
A strong ensemble bolsters a capable cast, the musical numbers strongest during choruses or added backing vocals. Though Amy Montgomery as Donna can carry a tune, her voice is just enough to warrant her taking on the leading role. However, she is often strengthened by surrounding cast members during harmonies, and by the way – the harmonies throughout the show are fantastic across the board! But Montgomery clearly has the personality and charisma for the role, overall making her casting sensible. Donna’s two sidekicks Tanya (Jennifer Knox) and Ali (Sara Sevigny) are wonderfully played, each character getting their respective laughs and admirably tackling their vocal duties. Sevigny truly shines as Ali during her duet with Bill, “Take A Chance On Me” displaying a great sense of comic timing (as well as O’Connell), while Knox hits one out of the park in her gritty number “Does Your Mother Know” showing off her dancing prowess in a heated exchange with Pepper, the young flirt who has eyes for her since her arrival to the island.
We can easily buy into Dieblod, Gillis and O’Connell as Donna’s three past love interests, each also adding to the production with fine vocal offerings and just the right touch of physical humor. Diebold is no stranger to the role of Sam Carmichael having toured with Mamma Mia! on the Broadway North American Tour.
Still, you can’t have a successful production of Mamma Mia! without a strong Sophie, and Kiersten Frumkin is just that. Vocally on par for each of her many numbers, Frumkin is able to capture the essence of Sophie, projecting a true sense of wonder, hope and elation into her role, creating a believable twenty-year-old optimist that we can’t help but relate with and root for.
Though Mamma Mia! is far from a profound life lesson, it does promote self-acceptance in many ways and leaves us with hope that past mistakes can sometimes be corrected, even if twenty years later.
With one Abba hit after another Mamma Mia! grabs its audience from its opening number “I Have a Dream” and doesn't let go until after its finely built crescendo finale number “Waterloo”, where each seat in the theater is now empty due to its occupants dancing and clapping along with the cast.
Mamma Mia! is the feel good night out everyone can use to take in some great music and have some healthy laughs that will have audience members wanting to do it all over again. Mamma Mia! is being performed at Paramount Theatre through October 30th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.paramountaurora.com.
As Sophie sings along with Bill, Harry and Sam, “Thank you for the music”.
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