‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ opens DAG Theater on the Avenue

Photo by Sue Suchyta
The cast reviews choreography during a rehearsal for the Downriver Actors Guild’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera based on the Gospel accounts of the last week of Christ’s life, opens the Downriver Actors Guild’s new Theater on the Avenue Friday for a two-weekend run.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. June 6, 7, 13 and 14, and 3 p.m. June 8 and 15. The theater is at 2656 Biddle in Wyandotte.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call 313-303-5269 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.

DAG artistic director Deborah Aue of Taylor said “Superstar” is a great choice for the opening show for the new theater because it has great music and a large cast of all ages.

“The message is very positive,” Aue said, “and it allows us to showcase some of our wonderful talent that we have.”

She said part of the excitement has been watching the show and the building come together at the same time.

“Even with the obstacles, everyone is staying pretty positive,” Aue said.

She urges patrons to get their tickets early, since the theater has only 200 seats, and with a large cast, she anticipates sold out shows.

The talent in the cast is impressive as well, Aue said.

“It just amazes me every time I listen to these people sing,” Aue said. “I am very excited to see it all come together with lights, costumes and orchestra.”

Running lighting and sound cables is just some of the technical work involved in setting up a new venue for production, said Joel Bias of Southgate, adding that state-of-the-art lighting and a new sound system are part of the plan.

“This show will be pretty amazing,” Bias said. “We are bringing in special lighting just for this show. We have a professional lighting person coming in to help us set up and put up a good show.”

Director John Sartor of Canton Township said “Superstar” is his favorite show, and he has been involved with seven previous productions of it.

“Everybody has worked so hard, and what makes it even more intense is that with the building and how all stepped up to help, not to mention many, many other people to create this Theater on the Avenue,” Sartor said.

“So being that the cast was a part of all the creativity in the building, I think that has also helped them to be a part of the first production, and they can look back and see everything that they contributed to this production by being patient, by working together, and creating a very trusting, supportive cast.”

Sartor said it is important for audiences to be aware of what was going on during the time of Christ, how he was condemned to death, how people felt threatened by him, and how he affected other people.

He said the show portrays Christ as being someone with zero judgment against people, who accepted people as they were, and who just wanted peace among everybody. He said Brian Welch of Dearborn, who has played the role before, is bringing that to the role.

“He is setting a love vibe throughout the cast,” Sartor said. “He is there for everybody in the show. He is just wonderful to work with.”

He added that Peyton Bias’ choreography is very purposeful and thought through. He is using tormentor dancers in the show to mirror the emotions that are going on in Judas’ head.

“(The tormentors) are his guilt, his greed; they are his selfishness,” Sartor said. “Basically at one point I tell them that basically they love the violence. They love the fact that they are part of bringing and aiding in this betrayal. They enjoy that. They are more like serpents.”

Sartor said he hopes that audiences leave with a raised awareness toward seeing the good in everybody as well as the way people then felt about Christ.

“I tell people in the show this is all open to interpretation,” Sartor said. “So nobody is going to be glued down to this happened in the Bible, this didn’t happen – it’s all about a person walking the planet who is accepting of everybody. Sad to say, people (are) threatened by that, even now, and it is a sad thing.

“When people encounter somebody who is honest, who doesn’t want anything from you and just wants to share with you, and people feel threatened by that, because they think that they have an ulterior motive, and that saddens me,” Sartor said.

Welch said that everyone has a different vision of Jesus, and as an actor, he has to try to fit everyone’s vision of him.

“They have their different religions, their different beliefs, and it all plays into it, and you have to have this persona,” Welch said. “Every time that I go to see ‘Godspell’ or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ or some show like ‘Children of Eden’ that has a father figure or Christ-like figure in it, you want to see that persona.”

He said the first time he played Christ in “Superstar” he was nervous that people would not believe his characterization, but he said it ended up being his best performance of a role ever.

“I am so fortunate this time that I get to play it again with even a much more talented cast than we had the first time,” Welch said.

He said playing the role of Christ is emotionally draining.

“You put in all this emotion telling this story, what Christ went through, and by the end of the show you are emotionally drained,” Welch said.

Joining Welch in the cast is April Denny of Dearborn Heights as Mary Magdalene, Dave Martin of Wyandotte as King Herod, John Sartor of Canton as Pilate and Chris Chavez of Allen Park as Caiphas.

Jay and Ray Carter of Taylor and Jim Wolbrink of Detroit play the high priests, with Kayla Aue of Taylor, Jami Mullins of Trenton and Sydnee Rider of Southgate as the Soul Sisters.

The apostles include Tony Primeau as Peter, Michael Suchyta as Simon (and a tormentor and a featured dancer) and Paul Primeau of Brownstown Township as Judas.

Other apostles include Noah Bias of Wyandotte, Don Corbin of Allen Park, Ryan Delorme of Brownstown Township, Mike Fay, David McDonald, Mike Parks and Jacob Partrich of Taylor and Alex Rosen of Lincoln Park.

Jessalyn Sturm of Taylor plays a tormentor and featured dancer, with Ernie Delgado of Taylor and Jim Steele as Roman guards.

Featured dancers include Kayla Aue, Kayla Nagy, and Jacob Patrich of Taylor, Kayla Chavez of Allen Park, Jenna Gadille of South Rockwood and Jade Reynolds of Oxford.

Additional ensemble members include Amanda Aue of Taylor, Ashley Blevins of Allen Park, Amy Leighton, Megan Slaith of Westland, Eleanor Smith of Taylor, Lucinda Chavez of Allen Park and Stephanie Primeau of Brownstown Township.

Children in the cast include Paris Fisher, Carter Halberstadt of Wyandotte; Marissa Jackson, Elaina and Josh Primeau, and Brianne Rainey of Brownstown Township; Evan Sartor of Canton Township; Hannah Shaffer of Wyandotte; and Jules Scheffler.