MERCED — The classic rock opera telling of the last days of Jesus Christ opens this weekend as Playhouse Merced presents "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"I really do think the story itself is just one of the greatest stories of all time," director Robert Hypes said. "I have spent so much of my life, not only reading the Bible but different accounts about the histories of that time, analysis of the different people and ideas at the time.
"So it has been interesting to reacquaint myself with all of the things that I have read throughout my life and really being able to delve and remember some of the questions I may have had as a youth and answer some of them for me."
Based loosely on the New Testament account of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, the story is told mainly from the perspective of Judas, the disciple who eventually betrays Jesus and turns him in to the Roman authorities. The playhouse has not presented the award-winning production in 14 years.
The show is unique in that nothing is spoken, only sung, and will feature a live orchestra and rock concert-like sound as actors perform the lyrics of Tim Rice to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"The music has to be my favorite thing about the whole show," actor G.B. Blackmon III said. "Its lyrics are haunting and the orchestral elements are astounding. It's difficult to sing, but when it comes together, the sound is amazing."
Lexie Pivirotto-Britton agreed. "We get to bring a lot of personal interpretation, emotion and intimacy to the songs, and it makes them really fun to sing.
"Even though it was written over 40 years ago, the music still sounds modern and the show still translates well for a modern audience," she said.
Her favorite part of the production is how it brings humanity to a story that is often so familiar it loses its impact.
"The show does a really nice job of humanizing characters that are often depicted as kind of one-dimensional in popular culture," Pivirotto-Britton said. "I think many of the characters, especially Judas, become a lot more sympathetic because you're able to actually see and understand the story from their view."
Hypes appreciates how the show reveals more of the inner lives of the characters.
"None of the choices that a majority of the characters make are easy," he said. "We definitely play with the idea that these people may have their fates laid out for them, and what is interesting is to watch these people struggle with that, perhaps try and do whatever they can to change it.
"I think mainly, the show makes every character human, makes us identify with those characters a bit more so that way we can respect the events even more," he said.
Hypes hopes this humanity will allow audiences to connect with the plights and experiences of these familiar characters on a new level.
"For this community, I think even though the show has dark moments, there is still an uplifting air to it," Hypes said. "I think that's important when we all get bogged down in our own daily struggles."
'Jesus Christ Superstar'
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through March 24
WHERE: Playhouse Merced, 452 W. Main St.
TICKETS: $20 adults; $19 seniors; $10 students; $8 children
CALL: (209) 725-8587
The production is directed by Robert Hypes. Actor Josh Holsen plays the lead role of Jesus Christ, while G.B. Blackmon III plays Judas. Other cast members include Lexie Pivirotto-Britton, Valiant Reyes, Alejandro Arellano, RC Essig, Brad Reed, Renney Doser, Tim Rohrer, Jordan Cowman and Theresa Hong.