Jesus Christ Superstar at Riverside Theatres

Following their hit productions Shrek, Miss Saigon, Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera, Packemin Productions returns to Riverside Theatres in February 2019 with a staggering new production of the world’s first rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. Mich spoke with actor Toby Francis who plays Judas Iscariot in the production, about the timelessness of the work and his personal connections to the show. Have a read of the full interview below:

Toby Francis

Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970’s rock opera. What is it about this piece that makes it timeless and what do you think it is about this particular production that will make it resonate with today’s audiences?  

 

The story of the end of Jesus’ life has all the elements of our own stories. Love, betrayal, humanity, sacrifice. We all strive to save those around us that we love, we all want to be cleansed of our own sins, we all feel betrayed or torn or faulted. The stakes are high when it comes to Jesus and I think you don’t have to mess with the story too much to allow modern audiences to connect with it. I mean, that’s why it’s endured, right? That’s what will resonate, that Neil [Gooding, the director] has made sure that it is a story about people, not a story about a God.

 

What is your personal connection to this musical? Were you familiar with it prior to this show and if so, what is your earliest memory of the show and your character?

 

Neil told me to listen the 1992 Australian Cast recording almost a decade ago and it has been my favourite cast album since. Hell, it’s one of my favourite albums period. I play it often so I’m incredibly familiar. That’s half the work in this production, is making sure I don’t mimic what I know so well. Obviously you want to keep some stuff but Peter Hayward [Music Director] and I have been picking and choosing where we do that. That’s my earliest memory, listening to that album and having my mind melted by the best vocals I had ever heard on a cast album.

 

Do you have a favourite moment or song in the show? Is there is a song performed by any other character in the show that you wish you could perform?  

 

The Last Supper. It’s a confrontation between Jesus and Judas and it’s where everything comes to a head before it all turns. It’s a great moment. The song I’d most like to sing is Gethsemane. Jesus sings some straight up bangers but that one takes the cake.

 

There have been many many different interpretations of Judas over the past 40 odd years. What is it that you think will differentiate yours and how have you tackled the process of building your character and making sure he is authentically yours? What do you hope to bring to this particular production to add to the canon of JCS performances?

 

I think he’s misunderstood. Not just in the sense that emotionally he’s troubled but because his role in the crucifixion of Jesus is misunderstood. Someone had to betray Jesus so that he could die for everyone’s sins, right? And once Jesus makes his sacrifice, he gets to go back up to heaven and chill with his Dad and the Angels but Judas is relegated to hell by all Christian doctrine. So Judas, in a way, makes the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. He doesn’t know it, but he does. Doomed for all eternity but the catalyst for salvation. I like that about him. In my mind, he’s an idealist trying to protect Jesus and his brothers, the Apostles. He hands Jesus over to die without knowing that death is coming. Nazareth has no law to condemn a man to death, Judas knows this. He thinks Jesus will be jailed or whipped or punished but ultimately he believes he will live. But they hand him to the Romans to do the dirty work and that’s why Judas kills himself. He never wanted the end to come as it did, he wanted to save 11 of his closest friends from death. And in doing so, he saved all humanity from it.

 

Over the last few years, you as an actor have now played quite a variety of roles. Can you talk a bit about your journey through your shows over the last couple years and a takeaway message you have learnt or continued to think about after the show closes from each of these characters?

 

I think the biggest lesson for me is that the more you experience in your life, the more you can give as an actor. There is something that only comes from really experiencing the extremes in things like grief, heartbreak, or joy that can’t be faked. When I was first starting out, I didn’t really get that to perform well you have to say ‘yes’ to a lot of things that come your way  in life. Everyone is ultimately the same at our core, we feel the same things, we want to love and be loved. That’s the biggest thing I have learned.

 

What has it been like working with Packemin on this production and what can audiences coming to the show expect?  

 

Neil has so many new ideas for this show, things that are striking and interesting, that made me think, “why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?” Things that are obvious but only once someone has put them in place, you know? I’m excited to see the audience respond to them because I think they’re killer.


 

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

 

Favourite production you have ever seen?

Cry-Baby at Hayes Theatre Co.

 

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Prague or Helsinki.

 

Dream role to perform?

Judas. For real.

 

Plays or musicals?

Both.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

Writing and chess. (I had lots of friends in Primary School...)

What’s next for you after this show?

I don’t know yet. That’s half the fun of being a performer though, right?

Jesus Christ Superstar is running at the Riverside Theatres from 08 February - 23 February 2019. There will be an Audio Described Performance & Tactile Tour (bookings essential) on 16 February and an Auslan Interpreted Performance on 22 February. You can get your tickets here.

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