Apostles, ensemble, dance corps, and Jesus (Ben Ballmer) of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” to be performed at ETHS on April 21, 22, 28 and 29. Photo by Ginny Lazarus

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The ETHS theater department is currently in final rehearsals for the upcoming musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  What makes this production unique is that students are working not only with the original story, but with some of the cast members from the original production.

Tom Sollers, who is directing the show, played an apostle in the original national tour of the musical along with Ted Neeley (as Jesus) and Carl Anderson (as Judas), who reprised their roles from Broadway and in the film. Mary Theresa Reed, who is the show’s vocal director, was in the Illinois All-State production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” about the same time Tom was on tour.

The show will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on April 21, 22, 28, and 29 in the ETHS auditorium, 1600 Dodge Ave. Tickets are $12 and are available online at ethstheatre.com and at the ETHS box office the nights of the show.

The 1970s rock opera, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, loosely depicts the last week of Jesus’s life as told in the Gospels and the personal struggles between Jesus and apostle Judas Iscariot. The show features the talents of more than 100 ETHS singers, dancers, musicians, and crew.

Mr. Sollers told the RoundTable that the ETHS production is based on the original story but that the talent of the student actors and staff creativity allowed him to take the show in powerful new directions.

As with any opera, every word is sung to music, said Mr. Sollers. “We faced the same challenges in not relying on the spoken word.” The students’ talents allowed for a more expansive collaboration between song, dance, and lighting to tell the story, he added.

A dance company was created specifically to highlight the abilities of student Sidney Chuckas. First-year choreographer Jenna Schooppe added dance to illustrate the death of Judas and other scenes which are in addition to the original production. The orchestra has been positioned on stage to “put them in the audiences’ lap,” making the music even more inviting and putting all of the action “front and center.” The lighting, designed by Aaron Carney, features the work of two ETHS alumni, Charlie and Jamie Davis, who have worked in professional lighting all over the world. They have brought in extra scaffolding in order to do “something beautiful,” said Mr. Soller.

When asked what was different about his experiences with the story with time around, Mr. Soller said that as the director, “he’s much more involved it the story” now.  When he played an apostle in the original production he, “didn’t get as involved in the message…now I am getting into the nuts and bolts.”

“The students are “peaking in their ability,” he said, “which is the beauty of working at the high school.”

Mr. Soller has been at ETHS since 1985, directing about 30 productions including Ragtime, Pippin Revival, Big River, Sound of Music, and Six Degrees of Separation. He is a graduate of Northwestern and University of California Berkeley.