|Paul Nolan as Jesus (centre). Photo by David Hou.|
It’s not often I sit in the theatre, head bowed. But toward the end of director Des McAnuff’s powerful re-staging of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Stratford Festival (one of Canada's preeminent theatre companies located in Stratford, Ontario, southwest of Toronto), that’s exactly what I was doing. From that position I could see that my hands were also clasped on my lap as if in prayer. It was involuntary. I was raised Catholic – in the beleaguered Catholic enclave of Derry, Northern Ireland, no less – and so visions of Jesus hanging on the Cross move me in ways of which I’m often not aware. Faced with actor Paul Nolan suspended high above the stage, arms outstretched like the crucified Christ, instantly conjured the yearning of childhood when I used to pine for Jesus, just as the nuns taught me to do. I recalled, sitting there in the darkness of Stratford's Avon Theatre, how before I was 10, I wished for a time machine to whisk me back to Garden of Gethsemane so I could warn him to make a run for it by dawn. Jesus, in other words, was the first big love of my life, the one person I’d do anything to save for all the saving he was said to be doing of me. It’s that idea of Jesus as heartthrob that McAnuff plays up in his revival of the 1971 Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera based loosely on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Christ’s life, and it’s an idea that works miracles. This Jesus Christ Superstar is a hit. It plays at Stratford now through October.