SRJC stages ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

If You Go

What: “Jesus Christ Superstar,” presented by the Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department

When: April 19 through May 5

Where: Maria Carrillo High School Auditorium, 6975 Montecito Blvd., Santa Rosa

Admission: $12-$22; bargain show April 27, $10

Information, tickets and full schedule: 707-527-4307, theatrearts.santarosa.edu

Sometimes a stage role packs so much potential charisma that the actor cast to play the part feels empowered to perform his very best.

That’s how Phillip Percy Williams feels about his title role in the Santa Rosa Junior College production of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“I’ve been thinking about playing this part since I was in high school,” Williams said. “I’m touched and honored to portray Jesus onstage. I could not be more excited.”

Because of renovations at the college’s Burbank Auditorium, the show opens at the Maria Carrillio High School Auditorium in Santa Rosa on April 19. That’s Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The show also will performed on Easter Sunday, and the production will continue through May 5.

“The two hardest roles to cast in this show are Jesus and Judas, because the vocal demands are extraordinary,” said the show’s director, Leslie McCauley, who also serves as chairperson and artistic director of the Theatre Arts Department at the college. “You need a voice that can not only sing it once, but sing it night after night. That was a concern in casting, because you can damage a young voice if it’s not ready.”

That’s one reason McCauley why chose Williams, a professional singer and performer from San Rafael whose credits include 11 years with the popular Beach Blanket Babylon cabaret show in San Francisco. He appears as a guest artist with the student cast, which includes Noah Sternhill as Judas and Ariana LaMark as Mary Magdalene.

In an era of imaginative and even experimental casting, picking an actor of African American descent to play Jesus hardly causes a stir in contemporary theater circles.

“That never entered my mind,” McCauley said. “Phillip walked in and ran through the show with us, and he was so charismatic, I said ‘He’s our Jesus.’”

Williams, who spent his childhood in Mobile, Alabama, found the movie version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” comforting and inspirational after moving as a teenager with his mother to Los Angeles.

“I was undergoing a lot of changes. I was new at my high school, and I had a Southern accent. One night some friends put on the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ movie, and I was inspired. It gave me hope. I referred back to the movie when I thought I couldn’t handle anymore, ” he said.

The actor also drew inspiration from his mother, who helped him withstand racial epithets by saying, “Why let a word take away your power? What if somebody called you purple?”

Over time, he learned to be secure with who he was, and he believes that “Jesus Christ Superstar” deals with a similar struggle.

Williams said he knows some may find his being cast as Jesus rather untraditional, but to him, the role of Jesus is also about a character coping with other people’s judgments of him and expectations of him.

“The point is to treat people with respect. There are stereotypes,” Williams said. “What I get a lot is people will say something they think is a compliment. Friends said I’d make a good Judas.”

What pleases McCauley most is that Williams has earned a leadership role among his cast-mates.

“We brought Phillip in to be a role model for what it looks like when you bring everything fully to the stage, and he does that 150%.”

For Williams, the student cast’s energy is a welcome boost. “I’m in awe of the interaction with the kids in the cast,” he said. “The students are full of love and support for each other.”

This is not the first time that Williams has lent his presence to a starring role on a Sonoma County stage. Last year, he played the gender-bending role of Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.

For the Santa Rosa Junior College production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” McCauley has chosen a contemporary rock concert setting instead of trying to revisit the Holy Land.

“There are no togas,” she said. “The disciples are like the street protesters of today. The authorities are like figure in today’s corporate or political worlds.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

If You Go

What: “Jesus Christ Superstar,” presented by the Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department

When: April 19 through May 5

Where: Maria Carrillo High School Auditorium, 6975 Montecito Blvd., Santa Rosa

Admission: $12-$22; bargain show April 27, $10

Information, tickets and full schedule: 707-527-4307, theatrearts.santarosa.edu

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine