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Date Night: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Two days before Thanksgiving, a snowstorm descended on Denver, Colorado as actor James Delisco Beeks prepared to sing. The cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a Broadway production that arrives in Baltimore next week, performed in the Mile High City throughout that snowy week. They hunkered down, and so did Beeks.

Jesus Christ SuperstarIt’s his third time in this “Superstar” role, after all, his third time playing the part of Judas Iscariot. And he knows it well.

“I love it,” he says during a phone interview. “I love this role. It’s a dream role.”

Misunderstood character

It’s fair to say he’s spent some time contemplating the biblical character known for betraying Jesus and setting into motion his arrest and crucifixion.

“Judas is a very complex character,” Beeks says. “He is misunderstood. After studying him, I don’t understand why he is seen as a villain.”

Judas is complicated in history and in story, and he’s a many layered character in the production – the story plays out through his perspective. The role is challenging one, Beeks admits, and to prepare, he works out, drinks lots of water and gets his eight hours of sleep every night.

A new show

The show is “not your grandma’s ‘Superstar,’” Beeks says. It’s a rock concert and a dance concert. No, he amends, it’s “a rock and dance concert inside the traditional musical theater venue.”

What exactly does that mean? Many audiences know Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” written with Tim Rice, in the 1970s. But they forget the play was actually a rock concert album first. This current Broadway Across America production harkens back to those beginnings.

“Close your eyes, listen to it and focus on the music,” Beeks advises.

The play’s messages about the “cult of personality” and the dangers of a “mob mentality” resonates with today’s audiences as “very poignant and very telling of our time,” he says.

Breaking in

Beeks, who grew up in Florida, wowed his grade school classmates when he sang the Pledge of Allegiance one day. He attended the well-known Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, met Michael Jackson at a concert and grew further inspired to perform.

He credits his discovery to a chance piano bar encounter with Billy Porter that led to Beeks to a role in “Smokey Joe’s Café.”

Beeks also loved playing Lola in “Kinky Boots,” calls the role of Judas an “ultimate dream” and wants to one day be cast as Leading Player in “Pippin.”

The last time he performed in Baltimore, he sang in a show of Michael Jackson’s music with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

And now he returns to the role of Judas. “I’m having fun with it,” he admits.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is at The Hippodrome Dec. 17-22. The show returns to this area April 14-26, when it will be staged at the Kennedy Center. france-merrickpac.com.

About Jessica Gregg

Jessica Gregg, managing editor of Baltimore STYLE, is a graduate of University of Maryland’s journalism school. She spent more than a decade writing for newspapers around central Maryland before she moved to the Big Sky country of Montana and began to teach writing. After returning to Charm City, she worked for Sisters of Academy of Baltimore, among other schools, blogging and writing in her free time until she made the return to journalism for good. She previously worked as the special products editor for The Daily Record. She is a happy rowhouse dweller and mother of two.

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