Fuse Productions to put a modern spin on ’70s rock opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Fuse Productions will present “Jesus Christ Superstar” June 20-22 at Schwab Auditorium.
Fuse Productions will present “Jesus Christ Superstar” June 20-22 at Schwab Auditorium. Photo provided

Fans of the musical hit “Jesus Christ Superstar” will find something new to love about Fuse Productions’ iteration of the beloved rock opera. Fuse is set to give the show a small update in presentation, with hauntingly relevant tie-ins to social media and society’s relationship with platforms such as Instagram.

Richard Biever, producing artistic director at Fuse Productions, will direct the musical.

“(The show) is about popularity and, is it better to be popular and have a lot of people follow you, or is it better to have a smaller following that actually understands the deeper meaning of what you’re talking about? That’s the essential conflict of the show and that’s why it’s such an interesting take on the (biblical) story,” Biever said.

As written, the character of Judas stands in as somewhat of a campaign manager for the character of Jesus, aiming to keep Christ on track and on message as his popularity grows. This theme of popularity pointed Biever’s mind to the way society currently uses social media and Instagram particularly.

“You can have millions of Instagram followers, but are people following because they’re actually fans of that person, or are they doing it because their friends follow that person?” he said.

Throughout the show, the cast will have cellphones, and monitors show the audience Jesus’ Instagram following and how it increases or decreases depending on what’s happening in the story at a particular moment.

Fuse will perform the show with a smaller-than-normal company. The cast consists of 12 individuals, plus three actors playing the principle characters of Jesus, Judas and Mary. All actors are relatively local (the furthest coming from Altoona) and several are Penn State students or recent alums, as Biever notes it’s often easier for students to participate in Fuse’s summer shows.

Fuse Productions will present “Jesus Christ Superstar” June 20-22 at Schwab Auditorium. Will Yurman Photo provided

Despite the show’s modern update in presentation (Biever assures the songs and story are all still the same), he’s hesitant to nail down the audience he expects when “Jesus Christ Superstar” premieres on June 20. He points to a certain nostalgia connected to the show, first performed in 1971, and how that will likely attract older Broadway fans, but he thinks there’s a draw for younger theatergoers, too.

“I’m hoping that because we’re putting it in the present, that younger people will come and discover the show, because I think they’ll find it to be quite provocative and interesting, even though it’s seen now as kind of a grandaddy of the rock opera (genre),” he said.

If you go

What: Fuse Productions’ “Jesus Christ Superstar”

When: 7:30 p.m. June 20-22 and 2 p.m. June 22

Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park

Info: www.fuseproductions.org