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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to tour North America

By Mark Kennedy
Associated Press
Michelle Williams
- Kevin Mazur / WireImage
Michelle Williams performing at a launch event for the tour.

The 1970s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” is being resurrected for a North American arena rock tour this summer, led by a former boy band member, an R&B siren and a punk icon.

The musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice about the last days of Jesus will start a 54-city tour in New Orleans on June 9. It will come to Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena on June 11. (Tickets will go on sale Friday at www.jesuschristsuperstar.com.)

It will star punk legend John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon as King Herod, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child as Mary Magdalene, Brandon Boyd of Incubus as Judas and JC Chasez of `N Sync as Pontius Pilate. Ben Forster, the winner of the U.K.’s prime-time contest show “Superstar,” will play the son of God.

“I’m looking forward to the experience,” Chasez said. “This is honestly my first theater experience so I’m being thrown into the fire a bit. But I’m excited because the fact that we’re doing something that feels pretty unique.”

The guitar- and keyboard-driven musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1971, includes such songs as “What’s the Buzz?” “Superstar,” “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” The production will have four video cameras broadcasting the show onto screens and use the latest in lighting and sound technology.

“Superstar” was first introduced as an album before being staged in theaters on Broadway and in London. “There’s always been, for me, something a little bit constraining about it in a theater,” Lloyd Webber said. “We wrote it as a rock album and not as a stage show.”

In 2012, producer Michael Cohl said he saw a concert version of “Superstar” in London and was blown away. That show toured the U.K. and Australia before jumping to North America. Ticket prices in America will be between $29 and $125.

Cohl, who was a lead producer on the ill-fated, aerial-effects laden “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” declined to talk too much about the financing, but said the new show’s total costs are in the “eight figures” and needs to pull in “several hundred thousand dollars” each night to keep it on the road. “It’s a particular pleasure for me to get to work on this show – particularly because there’s no flying,” Cohl joked.

The original production earned five Tony Award nominations, including one for Ben Vereen, who played Judas. A film version was released in 1973 and the last Broadway revival was staged in 2012 under the direction of Des McAnuff.

The musical dramatizes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the unrest caused by his preaching and popularity, his betrayal by Judas, the trial before Pontius Pilate and his ultimate crucifixion. It marked an early collaboration between Lloyd Webber and Rice, who also created “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Evita.”

At a news conference Friday announcing the tour, Williams, Forster and Boyd sang a few songs and Lydon, formerly of the Sex Pistols, threw out bananas to the media, using expletives with ease. Chasez said the cast – with backgrounds from punk to pop – would bring their different performance styles and create something special.

“It sounds crazy and wonderful at the same time,” he said.

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