Alan Kinsella directs a radical Jesus Christ Superstar
by Drew Rowsome
"For me it's as relevant as it was in the '70s," says director Alan Kinsella of the Lower Ossington Theatre's upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar. "The way society worships stars and media personalities. They raise up a star, worship them, and then crucify them. This is a very modern production, but it is a very modern musical."
Kinsella was a successful theatre director in Ireland when his partner got a job offer in Toronto. "With the economy being what it is in Ireland, and I had reached a plateau artistically in Dublin . . . In some ways it was crazy to move, I had steady work and tenure in a drama school, I was pretty set up but I thought, 'This is the rest of my life,' and that's not really me. Somewhere different might be good for me."
Kinsella saw LOT's original mainstage production of Avenue Q and though he was known for "gritty avant-garde" work, the production, and the atmosphere and energy at LOT, reminded him of theatre in Dublin. He began plans to do a co-production with LOT of an Irish play when the rights fell through, LOT was looking for a director for The Woman in Black, and all the pieces fell into place. Since then Kinsella has applied his gritty skills to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and used his avant-garde experience to tease coherence out of the problematic book and glorious music of Hair.
Musicals offer their own unique challenges, "I like a show that is open to interpretation. I like to be able to put my own stamp on things but it has to come from the actual work, I can't impose it. I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar as a teenager so the music brings up an atmosphere for me. I'm being told it's a radical production but I'm so desensitized now." Kinsella has cast the show for talent and is a bit surprised that colour-blind casting is controversial. "I don't see how it is, and I'm from Ireland, we're not very diverse over there. I've done a few gender swaps in the casting and I think it really works. I don't want people to think this is the main thing but, depending on the person's point of view, if you go in believing that Jesus is the son of God, you'll still believe at the end. If you're questioning, you'll still believe he could be a crazy person. I've left it open to interpretation. There are subtle gay overtones, it's there in the score to begin with, but if someone went in and didn't want to see that, they won't."
Kinsella says the audition process was "great, we could have cast twice over. Vocally they're really, really strong and we have the same musical director, Mike Ross, as on Hedwig. They're quite young but I wanted it to be that way. It's a cast of 15 and we cast for versatility. They have to be able to play apostles and priests and ensemble . . . Erik Kopasci, Berger from Hair, is our Jesus. He auditioned with "Gethsemane" and just nailed it. And he's kind of easy on the eyes which helps."
Kinsella is aware of the production of Jesus Christ Superstar underway at Hart House, "It's interesting that two groups are doing it, we auditioned some of the same people. But it might actually help, people will see both, 'Let's see the differences." He also has the hit Stratford/Broadway production lurking in audience's memories. "I try to work in solitude but everyone has a point of reference of some kind. At least if something is similar I can say it was a coincidence. We've had so many debates, not just the cast but also the crew and the people in the office, about just who Jesus was. I think it's that kind of show, it asks lots of interesting questions."
Jesus Christ Superstar runs Thurs, Dec 4 to Sat, Jan 24 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave. lowerossingtontheatre.com