MOLINE — Quad-City Music Guild has created its own version of a Moline High School reunion by casting the trinity of Moline alums Chase Austin, Adam Sanders and Emily Majetic to play the leads in the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” opening March 22 and running for two weekends.
The first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice produced for the professional stage, "Superstar" debuted on Broadway in 1971. The show covers the days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of his betrayer, Judas Iscariot.
Austin, 21, plays Jesus; his 2016 Moline classmate Sanders, 20, plays Judas; and 2013 Moline grad Majetic plays Mary Magdalene.
“Jesus and Judas — before all this happens, they're so close to each other. Judas is basically his right-hand man,” Sanders said in a recent interview at the Prospect Park theater. “It was easy to come into this show and have that chemistry. It's hard to be mean to him. It's felt very organic.”
He and Austin were in musicals at MHS together. Their senior year, Sanders played Tevye in “Fiddler on the roof,” while Austin was Fyedka. The prior year, Sanders was Teen Angel in “Grease,” and Austin played Sonny. They both were in the 2018 spring show at Music Guild, “Catch Me If You Can”; Sanders was the lead, Frank Jr., and Austin was Agent Cod.
Sanders' credits also include last fall's “Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Moline's Spotlight Theatre and last summer's “A Chorus Line” at Music Guild, which he called his “second home.”
In the “Superstar” program, he wrote: “I want to thank my Lord. He has given me the strength and courage to get on this stage each time to portray a character. Without his guidance, I would not be where I am today.”
“This show is so incredibly moving and powerful and beautiful,” Sanders said in the interview. “My family grew up Catholic. My now-fiancee's family, her father is a pastor. It's definitely just getting to tell the story is something I love hearing, being a Christian myself.”
“The way I want to portray him is someone that's real, someone who felt influenced to do this,” he said of Judas. “Jesus knew this was going to happen. Judas felt that power come over him, and ultimately made that decision. In the end, it ended up being a good thing.”
“You see the humanity of Jesus,” said Austin, who has played Rocky in The Speakeasy's “Rocky Horror Show” two years in a row. “This was his mission, the fulfillment of his destiny.”
“You can relate to him,” he said. “There's a lot of emotion, feeling overwhelmed, pressure. ... Nobody's perfect; he's still human as well. No human is perfect.”
Mary Magdalene comforts Jesus during the chaos that surrounds the call for crucifixion.
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“Mary is the humanity that he's trying so hard to save,” Majetic said. “He's not so much returning what she feels toward him. How she feels, she's infatuated with him romantically, but he doesn't return that. It's a different type of love, a preservation of humanity.”
“It's a lot of emotion I may feel internally but have never expressed,” Austin said of the show. “To play such a loved character around the world, it's hard to play. It's stressful for me.”
“It's a pretty challenging show for everybody, even the ensemble,” Majetic said, noting that in Act 2, she has a shift in demeanor as things fall apart for Mary and she doubts herself. “The control of the situation is completely out of her hands,” she said. “Mary realizes something is happening, and she can't stop it.”
“Everybody's losing their humanity, getting swept up in the craziness of it all,” Majetic said. “She's trying to remain his champion."
Director Mike Turczynski said in the program his goal was “to find the humanity in characters that most people are familiar with due to their biblical context. We read and hear stories about people like Jesus and Judas, but it is hard for us to equate that with an actual person of flesh and blood who walks the earth.”
David Beeson of Geneseo, who plays King Herod, is among the cast members making their debut on the Music Guild stage. “This is something I've been talking about doing for 20 years,” he said. “I'm a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The high notes that Judas and Jesus hit just send chills down my spine.”
“Getting up there and singing for people depending on me is interesting,” Beeson said. “The cast has been great. We've come together as a cohesive unit very quickly.”
Of playing Herod, he said, "I don't have to be as serious as the other characters. It's just a lot of fun to sing."
Majetic was in a similar music-filled Guild show, “Les Miserables,” in 2014. “I had such a wonderful experience in that cast. That was the best summer of my life. ... I'm so happy to be back involved in Music Guild. It's such a wonderful organization,” she said.
This is the first time since 2009's “The Producers” that Music Guild has staged a spring show over two weekends.
“It's a whole lot of work, a lot of passion and energy put into it,” Turczynski said of staging a second weekend of shows. The last spring show, “we weren't ready to close,” he said. “We were still growing. It didn't feel right to end the show.”
“With all the work that goes into it, and it's hard to cast, too,” he said. “It's hard to find the people to put the amount of time and effort that a summer show takes."