Theater life is over for the Atlanta star of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
A: I think that [this version] has something for everyone. Theatrical audiences will really love this show. It’s an iconic piece, and obviously you can’t go wrong with Andrew Lloyd Webber. But for people new to theatre, it’s a great transition because there’s really a rock concert element to it and we have the band on stage. And it really hits!
Q: How has the tour been for you so far?
A: It’s an incredible honor to be part of this tour! This show is 50 years old. And so to see how it’s been interpreted for so many years in different ways through different lenses, and to be part of that legacy now is truly an honor for me. And my good friend actually plays Jesus! Aaron [LaVigne] and I’ve been friends for about 12 years, and he was the best man at my wedding.
Q: So how does this real friendship translate on stage?
A: Well, interestingly, I wouldn’t say we’re the same as the characters, but there are some similarities within the characters that I think we can both hang on to. In Aaron’s case for Jesus, he is carefree, positive, lives his life as if everything is fine, everything will be fine. When I’m always like, “OK, well, what’s the plan?” What happens next? So from Omar/Aaron’s perspective, it leans into the Judas/Jesus characters, because Judas is like, “Hey man, things are getting out of hand,” and Jesus is like, “Nah, man, everything is fine. Do not worry. Take it one day at a time.
And also, there’s just a natural chemistry there because we’ve known each other for so long. So, you know, a simple look or roll my eyes or something makes more sense because I’ve seen it before.
And there are a lot of complexities and nuances in this story. I think what was great about Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice was telling the story from the antagonist’s point of view, but they let him be the protagonist of the story. So it’s been really rewarding and really fun. I am grateful that I have developed a good technique through my studies and my work over the years to be able to find my way around.
Q: Speaking of your training, you started here in Atlanta, didn’t you?
A: Yeah, that’s a pretty cool story, actually. I was an athlete growing up. I played football — I played a lot of different sports — and my parents liked music and the arts, but they didn’t know much about it. I was drawn to music. And then in college – I’ll never forget – the orchestra teacher brought in a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra who played cello and played “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. And I was literally looking at that cello thinking, “Oh my God, that’s amazing!” So I played the cello for two years, in sixth and seventh grade.
Q: How did you get into theatre?
A: I had fallen in love with music and recognized that I could sing. So I joined the choir, and it wasn’t until my freshman year at Duluth High School that I think the universe stepped in. I auditioned for a class called Music Theater Workshop, but it turned out that class was for upper grades. And so the teacher thought I was a transfer student when I auditioned. Well I don’t know how she thought that because I was 4ft 11 in first grade and looked like I was 11 [laughs]! But the stroke of luck was that they were doing a production of “Mame,” which has a role called Little Patrick who is 11 years old. And guess who played Little Patrick and made his musical debut?
Q: Have you seen any theater around Atlanta as well?
A: I definitely went to see shows at Fox, which I think is really cool for me to be able to play on that stage. It’s so crazy!
I will never forget sitting in the audience and seeing the twinkling stars. It’s like, what are we, in “Arabian Nights”? It’s crazy! So I know it’s gonna be a weird “pinch me” thing [when I perform there]. I’ll probably rip during the sound check because the loop will feel very full to me. You know, I got to play in so many big venues and theaters across the country, but I never got to play in my main home theater. I’ve been there for a good minute and to have this opportunity at this stage of my career to come back in a role like this is special.
Q: Where else did you attend theater growing up?
A: I’ve also seen shows at the Aurora Theater and the Atlanta Lyric Theater, Georgia Ensemble Theater. I was grateful that my parents introduced me to a lot of this as a viewer.
And I have to thank my high school teachers, Rebecca Houser, who was my drama teacher and is coming to see “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and, sadly, my late choir teacher Lee Rodriguez Ayres. They were both instrumental in finding this calling, because without them I probably would have been a doctor or a lawyer or whatever. [In his senior year, his teachers encouraged him to pursue a music scholarship, and he ended up scoring a full one to study voice at the University of Miami.] I really owe them a lot for the experiences I have had in my life and career.
Q: As an actor, has it been difficult going through the pandemic?
A: It really made me think about a lot of things because the career kind of dissolved into nothingness, and a lot of things happened for my wife [stage and screen actress Arianna Rosario] and I before the pandemic, we said, ‘What will it be like when things come back, if they come back, and is this the life we still want to lead?’ And when we really sat down, we said, “That’s the only thing we can see ourselves doing.” I mean, yeah, maybe we can direct or produce and do things down the line, but I’ll always be an artist. And I think art found me because it was my calling, and I’m grateful for that.
“Jesus Christ Superstar”
April 19-23. $40 to $114. Fox Theater, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
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