Ridgefield production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ parallels current events, including Ukraine

RIDGEFIELD — A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut’s highly-anticipated production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is “not the same old ‘Superstar’” audiences know and love, according to Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine.

The timeless rock opera follows the last week of Jesus Christ’s life as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the most widely-produced musicals, having been revived, re-imagined and re-conceived hundreds of times since premiering on Broadway in 1971.

Levine was cast in the 2000 Tony Award-nominated revival and has appeared in many productions as both an actor and director over the years. This most recent iteration digs deeper in both subject and size, featuring the most actors ever cast in a main stage production at ACT.

Set centuries after biblical times — devoid of the typical tunics and sand dunes — ACT’s “Superstar” introduces the audience to a group of freedom fighters who defy an oppressive government in a “not-so-distant” dystopian future, Levine said.

It draws parallels to “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, now a popular Hulu series. Levine was in the middle of watching season four when he started pre-production on “Superstar.”

“It’s unbelievable how these stories are so similar,” he said, noting the “eerie similarities” between the Republic of Gilead and the biblical Galilee.

During the overture, ACT’s Mary Magdalene — played by Tony-nominated Caitlin Kinnunen — is rescued by the resistance from a life of constant child-bearing. The show comes full circle following Jesus’ death on the cross, in which Mary saves a captive child from the same fate.

These children make several appearances throughout “Superstar” to remind audiences that the next generation is always listening and observing, and are thus influenced by the adults around them, Levine said.

The war in Ukraine has had an inadvertent effect on the production as well; rehearsals started only a few days before Russia invaded.

“As we were talking about resistance groups and staying the course and prepping, it dawned on me — everything we’re staging is happening (in reality),” Levine said. “In our ‘Superstar’ the apostles plan their next moves in a bombed-out apartment building. … That’s happening in the Ukraine right now.”

Levine hopes ACT’s “Superstar” will encourage audiences to keep their eyes open to the world around them, and to listen to the voices that need help.

“It remains the greatest story ever told however you choose to tell it,” he added, “and this is how I want to tell the story.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” opens Thursday, March 24 at ACT. For a full list of performances or to purchase tickets, visit www.actofct.org.