Brisbane readies for classic rock opera

Naomi Price
Naomi Price

The guys are pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to Jesus Christ Superstar, the classic 70’s rock opera from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Apart from the title role and its vocal gymnastics, and rockstar protagonist Judas, the supporting roles are made up of a whole bevy of fascinating and challenging male roles. For the girls, however, there is only one – Mary Magdalene, one of the great musical theatre roles for women. When Harvest Rain Theatre Company unveil their latest production of the musical in August at the QPAC Playhouse, the part will be in the hands of Naomi Price.

“What I love about this role is the chance to play a historical figure,” said Naomi of the iconic part.

“Mary Magdalene has been the focus of so much speculation over the years and I am enjoying delving into all the theories and reading what people have to say about her. I find the relationship between her and Jesus fascinating; there’s such a fine line to tread and I have to say I love that sense of danger.”

Her work in Superstar is the latest in an already glowing career in the Brisbane theatre community. Since her Australian debut in their production of Twelfth Night in 2003, Naomi has worked extensively with Harvest Rain, receiving a number of Del’Arte Awards for her work. Of late, she has explored contemporary works, including The Last Five Years (2007 with Oscar Theatre Company) and Songs for a New World (2010 at the Judith Wright Centre), so she welcomes the chance to work on one of the true classics of the musical theatre.

“I have a vivid memory of seeing a high school production when I was about 10 years old and they had this incredible girl playing Judas,” Naomi said.

“It blew my mind! I think Superstar also lends itself to reinterpretation over and over because it’s a timeless story.”

When Webber and Rice first unleashed their revisionist take on the final days of Christ in 1971, it was met with much controversy. However, it is the un-Orthodox nature of the piece that Naomi attributed to its lasting effect nearly forty years later.

“I think it’s a genius choice to tell the story from Judas’ perspective because it humanises the characters,” she said.

“How else you identify or understand the man who betrayed Christ? As the audience you have to believe that if you were in the same position, you would at least consider making the same choice or else he becomes a motiveless villain. And I don’t think that’s what Judas was; I think he was just a human being faced with extraordinary pressure.”

With a month still to go till opening night, Naomi and the rest of the cast are deep in rehearsals, one of the highlights being a chance to make the classic song ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ all her own.

“We’ve been workshopping the song, trying to approach it with fresh vision and energy, and I’m really excited about where we are heading with it,” Naomi said.

And is the show really that much of a boys club? “In all honesty there are probably more girls in this show than guys. We have a huge ensemble of incredibly talented singers, both male and female, so although I get to frolic around with the Twelve Apostles, I’ve also got an all-girl posse of my own, so I’m definitely not outnumbered!”

The production, directed by Tim O’Connor and designed by Josh McIntosh, promises to be a spectacular staging of the musical, “set post-apocalypse inside a crumbling cathedral”, an effect Naomi is sure will make the production a memorable experience for both old fans and new. And her interpretation and respect for her character will surely add to that.

“I want to communicate the strength and tenacity I see in the character of Mary and hope that people see her in a new light… I can’t wait to get up on the floor and start bringing life to this character,” Naomi said.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from August 19-29. Bookings:

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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