Features Interviews

Interview: Aaron LaVigne

Jesus Christ Superstar will make its highly anticipated return to Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace theater beginning March 10 with performances through March 29. To celebrate the impressive 50th anniversary of the debut musical from Broadway’s most dynamic duo, Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice, this production has been completely reimagined and is unlike any performance theatergoers may have experienced in the past.

CleveRock recently spoke with Ohio native Aaron LaVigne, who plays the role of Jesus on the current tour, to get his take on the new production.

“The first thing that you should know when coming into the theater is that this production is all about the music. In this version, Jesus is a musician,” LaVigne revealed. “He’s a singer/songwriter. His message gets out and that becomes dangerous according to Judas and things unravel from there. I would say that the biggest thing from that is that we center around the music. We use the music to go create the emotional landscapes and tell the stories of the passion play surrounding it.”

Not only is this U.S. tour unique, but the Cleveland shows themselves will be unlike any other on the schedule! The local engagement will not only feature state of the art theatrical surround sound but more impressively, 22 local string players will float in the balcony boxes and accompany the 11 instrumental musicians who are rocking out onstage. LaVigne, for one, is super stoked for the experience:

“I think Cleveland is going to be lit! Cleveland is going to be awesome. Even from my own vantage point, while it’s not going to change my show since I hear my own mix on the stage of what the band sounds like, but I hear the reverberations of it bouncing off the back of the theaters,” he said. “If I can hear the strings hitting from the front side for once, I’m really excited. It takes it to a whole new level. This thing is going to be amazing!”

James Delisco Beeks and Aaron LaVigne in the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Knowing the base story of the last few days of Jesus’ leading up to his crucifixion is told in the gospels is helpful to patrons. While LaVigne tells us, “They definitely didn’t lift this production from the gospel,” the plot and characters are sometimes a little tricky to track.

“You really have to come to it with an open mind. It actually provides a lot more questions than answers I would say, especially in the small details,” LaVigne clarified. “Our creative team from London took a lot of time to create this thing and sometimes they said, ‘Let’s make a picture out of this,’ and other times they said, ‘We need to bring some emotional sense to this’ and other times they said, ‘We need to bring a little bit of divinity or holiness here.’

As previously mentioned, Jesus is a musician in this production, LaVigne expands upon that, saying that Jesus is “…More of a Christ-like character. It’s Kurt Cobain, it’s Amy Winehouse; it’s Jimmy Hendrix. These people that get built up by society and ultimately that is their downfall, too.”

There is an old saying in theater that “acting is being. Performers need to own their character. It’s difficult enough playing any historic character that audiences will have a prior perception of, especially when that perception varies vastly for each person in the theater. I had to ask Aaron if there is any more difficult role as an actor to prepare than that of Jesus.

“Look, I basically do the best I can with what I have,” he replied with a laugh. “If you think about it, just this show specifically, Ted Neeley is a legend, obviously. He is this role. He is this show. People are used to seeing him in this show. People of faith come to the show and everyone has a very personal relationship with Jesus and what Jesus Christ means to them. They have an idea of what he should look like, sound like, talk like, or what his presence should be, or what his hair should look like.

Acting is being. I just be. I just literally bring the light and the joy that I can find in the music and whatever is inside of myself and the people on stage with me,” LaVigne continued. “That’s literally all I can do, the best I can. There is a lot of pressure on it. I think that people come and say ‘I don’t know if we’re going to like this guy.’ Right away, for me, I have to kind of live up to the hype that’s already been built-up by legends like Ted Neeley or the story of the people or whatever people’s preconceived notions are. So far it’s been very positive. I bring a very human element to it. That’s my biggest goal.

Aaron LaVigne performs ‘Gethsemane,’ a powerful track from the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ soundtrack

In a recent video montage featuring various cast members of the current production where each member was asked to identify their favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical,

I think it speaks for itself. I get to sing ‘Gethsemane’ every night. It’s one of the most powerful songs in musical theater;.and just as rock song alone. The music stacks up against any show,” he said emphatically. “The singers are fantastic, the band is fantastic, the dancers are fantastic, the lights are cool, the sound design is fun, it’s a wild ride.”

On a personal note, Aaron is incredibly excited to perform in his native Ohio on this tour:

“It’s going to be great. We have 5 weeks in Ohio; three in Cleveland and two in Cincinnati. Obviously, I’m from Cincinnati, I love Cincinnati, I grew up there, I went to college there, I have a house there. I’m excited! I haven’t been to Cleveland in a while. It will be nice to spend a few weeks there, visit some friends, do some Rock & Roll Hall of Fame stuff and see what else the scene is offering these days. I’m really looking forward to Cleveland.”

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