La Jolla Playhouse version of Jesus Christ Superstar to have the Des McAnuff touch


By Diana Saenger

Former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff is at the helm of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” production coming to La Jolla Playhouse Nov. 18-Dec 31. The legendary rock opera, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, first appeared on Broadway in 1971.

The show replaces the scheduled premiere of the musical “Finding Neverland,” which was dropped from the season lineup this summer when one of the producing partners, Weinstein Live Entertainment, elected not to go forward with the production at the Playhouse.

“Superstar” is loosely based on the last week of Jesus’ life and is newly interpreted under McAnuff’s direction. The show has played at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s for the past eight months, which is McAnuff’s new “home,” and to say, “tickets are going fast,” is no cliché.

Chilina Kennedy (Mary Magdalene) has a lead role.

“The reason this particular production is getting rave reviews is because of Des’ vision of bringing it into today’s sensibility with modern choreography and modern dress,” she said. “That’s really helped the show connect to a younger generation. I think they will really like the focus on the love triangle between Jesus, Mary and Judas. I don’t think any other production has taken it to the lengths that Des has. For me, that really stands out.”

Kennedy grew up in a military family and said she knew at a young age she wanted to be a performer. She’s appeared in Stratford’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Evita,” “West Side Story,” “Forum,” as well as, “Summer and Smoke,” “Wonderful Town” “Anne of Green Gables,” and others.

“But this role is great, and it’s about who I would have a chance to work with — like Des, Rick Fox again (Music Director), Josh Young (Judas Iscariot), Paul Nolan (Jesus) and Brent Carver (Pontius Pilate). How could you say no to that?

“I was raised in a household with a strong feminist mother who had a lot of opinions on Mary Magdalene and her role in Jesus’ life, so it was interesting for me to explore that character.”

The cast is enormous and principals include Bruce Dow as King Herod, and Mike Nadajewski as Peter. Most of the actors are from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production, with some new members as well.

The iconic songs will still enthrall the audience, but from the actor’s view, how does a performer make them fresh every night?

“That is a challenge,” Kennedy said. “I did ‘Mamma Mia’ on the road for two-and-a-half years. Even in a show like this, that has been running for eight months, you have to develop techniques to keep things alive. One technique I use is point of focus. An actor can change a point of focus from show to show and it keeps things alive on the inside. The audience probably won’t notice this, but as an actor you certainly do.”

If you go

What: “Jesus Christ Superstar”

When: Matinees and evenings, Nov. 18–Dec. 31

Where: La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre

2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UCSD campus

Tickets: From $58

Box Office: (858) 550-1010


* Watch Des McAnuff discuss the show on Stratford Festival TV at