The Good Lord and the Devil’s Music
Jesus Christ Super Band Gives Biblical Musical a Rockin’ Twist
Sandi Armstrong has loved the sensational Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar since she was 12. Now, she’s bringing that to the Montreal stage.
She plays a rockin’ portrayal of Jesus in her epic rock opera, Jesus Christ Super Band, a week-long concert that celebrates the music of the original production paired with a bit of flair as well as a six-piece band of Montreal musicians to bring the theatrical energy to a whole new level.
The concert first premiered at Théâtre Sainte Catherine in June 2012 and is in its second year of production, spearheaded by Armstrong.
The Théâtre Sainte Catherine and Jesus Christ Super Band have a tight-knit relationship: Jeff Louch, the theatre’s musical director, fills the role of Pontius Pilate in the show and Louch’s brother, Mark, manages the theatre. Armstrong herself is a 10-year veteran working there.
The band members for the show are all familiar as well, having a history of playing together in the Mile End.
While they are all in separate Montreal-based bands, including the innovative sing-along rock band uRockaoke and the indie-rock group Plants and Animals, they are coming together for a second time to make up the Super Band ensemble.
“We have a great cast, and it’s so awesome to put on a show with close friends,” Louch said.
The original rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and first hit the Broadway stage in 1971. Since then, it has had dozens of different adaptations and spin-offs, including a film, a one-woman performance by Canadian musician Peaches and a surf-rock version called Jesus Christ Surferstar.
The musical is a biblical narrative and is loosely based on the Gospels’ accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, leading up to his crucifixion. It delves into the psychologies of Jesus, Judas and other characters.Jesus Christ Super Band elevates the idea from a musical into full-fledged concert, performing the entirety of the songs as if Jesus and his disciples are international superstars touring the world, with a full band on stage to back them up.
“It’s like a rock concert in costume,” Louch said. “We’re not just re-enacting the movie. This year we’re performing all the songs from the musical, and it’s super fun how much we get into character.”
Before the show became reality, Armstrong knew all the musical’s songs by heart, and would belt them out with her roommate in their shared apartment. Working at Théâtre Sainte Catherine coordinating improv shows provided a golden opportunity and sparked the thought,
“Hey, why don’t we do this onstage?”
And just like that, Jesus Christ Super Band was born.
“I like to think of our version of Jesus as Cal Naughton, Jr. described him in the movie Talladega Nights,” Armstrong said. “‘Jesus with giant eagle’s wings, and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with an angel band, and I’m in the front row and I’m hammered drunk!’”
Armstrong said it’s only natural for her to play the lead role as Jesus, as she was the one to bring the adaptation to life. Her fellow Superstar enthusiast and roommate, Simon Alain, joins her onstage as Mary Magdalene.
With a female Jesus lead and a male playing Mary Magdalene, this show is not your typical church-choir production.
Armstrong said the gender-role reversal is not a focus of the show, and the concert transcends any boundaries religious taboo might impose to become something everyone can enjoy and relate to, no matter what their religious beliefs.
“We play it straight; there’s no spoofing of any kind,” she said. “It’s all genuine.”
Having run a number of shows at Théâtre Sainte Catherine, Armstrong knows there’s a power in music, and aims to touch people with the spirited performances in the show.
“We’re not faking it. We’re feelin’ it up there, there’s magic,” Armstrong expresses. “This is our second year of doing this, and last year when I walked into the audience, their eyes were twinkling. A few people even cried.”
Armstrong and Louch will be filming the upcoming shows for promotional purposes and hope to put on a series of performances at Parc Lafontaine’s outdoor amphitheatre in the summer. Although Théâtre Sainte Catherine is the current home of the show, Louch would still
like to branch out in the future.
“The response has been great. We’re just seeing how far we can take it,” Louch said.
Jesus Christ Super Band / March 20 to March 23 / Théâtre Sainte Catherine (264 Ste. Catherine St. E.) / 8:00 p.m. / $15.00