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TCNJ theater course celebrates fifth season of inclusivity and activism with a modern twist on a classic rock opera

TCNJ theater course celebrates fifth season of inclusivity and activism with a modern twist on a classic rock opera

TCNJ Lyric Theatre will perform Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, from November 8–10 in Kendall Hall.

But this production comes with a twist, as Lyric Theatre decided to portray Jesus and the Apostles with an all-female cast.

“We chose Jesus Christ Superstar because we wanted to explore the idea of speaking truth to power,” says Jennifer Little, music faculty member and director of Lyric Theatre.

Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life from Judas’ perspective and explores the relationships between Jesus, Judas, Mary Magdalene, and his disciples. The show debuted on Broadway in 1971 and has earned critical acclaim over the last 50 years.

Lyric Theatre is an academic program that offers inclusive and diverse performance experiences to all students on campus, with each show exploring topical social issues. Jesus Christ Superstar is about grassroots activism and the pushback that often follows.

“We work hard to create inclusivity and diversity, not just in how we open the casting and crew to everyone, but in how we explore the material itself,” Little says. “We look for shows by a diverse community of voices; we work to use those shows to explore social issues important to us; and we use dialogue and discourse to debate the issues influencing all of our choices.”

The casting twist was inspired by current political realities. “If Jesus were to return today as a woman, how would people react? How would those in the religious and government power structures behave? These are the questions we wanted to explore by casting the show with women,” says Little.

Mia Ingui ’19, a journalism and professional writing major, who will star as Jesus in the production, says mastering the role was all about finding Jesus’ humanity. “Walking in the shoes of someone who spent their time looking to heal others has changed me as a woman for sure, and taught me so much about the world we live in today,” she says.

In addition to casting performers from a variety of disciplines across campus, Jesus Christ Superstar will also feature five members of The Arc Mercer, a nonprofit organization that provides support services to children and adults with developmental disabilities in the greater Mercer County community.

“Lyric Theatre provides an outlet for students who never thought of themselves as performers before,” says Maurice Hall, dean of the School of Arts and Communication. “This course is aimed at students from a wide variety of backgrounds and pulls together the best features of our music program into a learning environment.”

Michael Schraft ’21, an English secondary education major who will play King Herod, says Lyric Theatre feels like home. “While Lyric Theatre is a class, everyone involved comes back to do more shows with us because of the strong sense of community,” he says.

Lyric Theatre allows students to participate in one of three performances each year on campus. The group produces a full-stage musical in the fall and a straight play and opera in the spring. Auditions are held only to find the best role for each interested student.

— Sarah Voorhees ’20