Thursday, March 30, 2017

a conversation with the multiple Mary Magadelenes of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Arizona Broadway Theatre


by Gil Benbrook

For their production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Arizona Broadway Theatre is featuring four talented actresses, all of whom have performed in numerous ABT shows, in the role of Mary Magdalene, with each actress playing a week of the run.

Cassandra Klaphake just finished her stint as Mary but we got a chance to ask Laura Berger, Chanel Bragg and Lynzee Foreman some questions about this iconic show, what it's like taking on this very important woman, as well as what their experience working at ABT has been like.

Laura Berger (March 28 - April 2)

You play Mary Magdalene, an individual that just about everyone has a clear definition and understanding of who she is and her importance to the story of Jesus. How difficult is it to play such an iconic person and what have you done to form your portrayal of her? 

"I honestly feel the difficulty in portraying this role has been in rethinking previous conceptions of Mary Magdalene. ALW wrote these characters to be very human, so part of my process in realizing her on stage was to research who the actual person Mary Magdalene might have been. The most interesting thing I learned is that she was actually not named "Magdalene"; that was a word used to describe her.  In Hebrew and Aramaic, Magdalene translates to "tower","elevated", and "magnificent". To me, this shifts the perception of Mary from a repentant sinner to a woman who is revered as a pillar of strength. I am honored to be working on a production that makes this interpretation possible!"

What's your first memory of this musical?

"I was about 13 the first time I saw the movie - I was hooked from the start, went right to the library to get the soundtrack, and proceeded to memorize every word!"

Why do you think this show is still relevant today? 

"The show in and of itself is a classic piece of musical theatre! It was one of the original rock musicals, and its popularity has persisted over the decades. Also, the story is as ubiquitous as it is timeless; it can be retold in a myriad of ways which makes it accessible to so many different audiences."

Have you played this part before, or appeared in a previous production of this musical? 

"This is the first opportunity I've had to portray this role, and its a dream come true!"

Your favorite moment in this production? 

"I have always loved the song "Gethsemane", and I feel Brett's interpretation is incredibly powerful."

Your favorite past experience at ABT? 

"While playing Kala in "Tarzan" was incredible, I will always have a special place in my heart for my first role at ABT, which was Kaye in "The Taffetas"."

Dream role?

"Too many to list! But a good start would be Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd""

Your favorite part of working at ABT?

"Again, too many things to list! But getting to work alongside some of THE most talented people in the country, and also getting to call them my friends, is at the top of that list."

Chanel Bragg (April 4 - 9)

You play Mary Magdalene, an individual that just about everyone has a clear definition and understanding of who she is and her importance to the story of Jesus. How difficult is it to play such an iconic person and what have you done to form your portrayal of her?

"I think the only difficulty for me is trying to make sure my interpretation of Mary still co-aligns with the stories that my beautiful counterparts as Mary will tell. I think there is a fine line on how to portray her given her supposed profession, and the challenge is to make sure the audience feels how deeply she loved Jesus without judgement. Of course we "Mary to the 4th power" lol have a general framework of understanding of her placement in Jesus's life to derive inspiration from. What's incredible, is because we are so different, I'm hoping our individual message will be even more powerful and still stand strong that Love is the most important force on this earth and to love deeply, wholeheartedly, and to support those that resist an oppressive system and continue to fight!"

What's your first memory of this musical?

"Honestly, I had never experienced JCS until opening night of our production. I haven't even seen the movie. (Lol) So I'm certain I've had to learn the most out of the four M's because I literally have no basis for this musical. It wasn't on my radar because it's not often produced, and quite frankly I didn't think I'd ever be cast as Mary. I appreciate ABT for celebrating diversity and allowing me to be one of the four M's!"

Why do you think this show is still relevant today?

"Because we live in a time right now especially with the current administration that seem to want to divide our great nation. There is so much hatred that seems stirred up and this past election was proof of this. Proof of how much work is still needed. Proof that racism, misogyny, homophobia, exists in its ugliest form and it's our duty as fellow citizens to resist and speak out against the injustices toward our brothers and sisters. To demand collectively that although of course all lives matter, if another group is facing oppression to not marginalize their struggle because it does not resemble your own. The story of Jesus is that he was a radical non violent revolutionary! He hung out with the sick and the poor, he stood up against slutshaming and also challenged the Pharisees and their abuse of power. He preached the power of loving one another unconditionally and treating others how you wish to be treated. Regardless of what you believe in or not, I feel that we all can identify with this story."

Have you played this part before, or appeared in a previous production of this musical?

"Never. But I did sing second verse lead vocal on the title song Jesus Christ Superstar as a part of the Broadway Concert Experience. Wouldn't it be sexy to have a female Judas one day? Lol"

Your favorite moment in this production?

"King Herod! Andy Meyers absolutely slays, and that moment of brevity is needed because as we know this show ends in the crucifixion and I'll take all the lighter moments I can get!!!! Also any moment our incredible Jesus ( Brett Travis) belts. That's definitely a literal high point for me!"

Your favorite past experience / show / character you played at ABT?

"I've been fortunate to play some amazing roles with this lovely company. My first role was during Buddy Holly as the sassy Apollo Performer, and is easily one of my top favorite roles. Buuuut, I'd have to say I really loved playing Jewel in best lil whorehouse opposite my girl Cass. That was a wonderful show."

Dream role?

"Aida..... If I keep saying it , it will happen right!!!!! I don't care if I have to put up a production of it in my house... I. will. play. her!"

Your favorite part about working at ABT?

"The sense of family and the atmosphere. I walk in and I receive hugs from everyone from the box office staff, to technicians, to HR, to the actors, costume shop, you name it. We're one big ol' lovey-dovey family. You come back for a show and it's like a family reunion."


Lynzee Foreman (April 11 - 16)

You play Mary Magdalene, an individual that just about everyone has a clear definition and understanding of who she is and her importance to the story of Jesus.  How difficult is it to play such an iconic person and what have you done to form your portrayal of her?

"I have to be honest, I was very nervous at first at the thought of portraying such an iconic role, but the more I dove into it I realized that she had SO much for me to relate to as far as her feelings towards Jesus and the situations they found themselves in that it became very easy to bring her to life! "

What's your first memory of this musical?

"It's by far my favorite musical of all time. I broke the VHS copy of the movie because I watched it too many times! "

Why do you think this show is still relevant today?

"There is so much that's relevant, politics, hate, discrimination, love, faith. "

Have you played this part before, or appeared in a previous production of this musical? 

I have never played Mary, I have done this show once before at Desert Stages Theatre MANY years
Ago and I played an apostle! 

Your favorite moment in this production?

"My favorite moment has to be Gethsemane. Brett does such an emotional and real performance of the song that I just can't help but want to hear his rendition all the time."

Your favorite past experience / show / character you played at ABT?

"I definitely have had some GREAT times here at ABT, but my favorite would have to be Lina is Singin in the Rain. It was my first supporting role at ABT and I'm so thankful for that!!!"

Dream role? 

"I'm LITERALLY playing mine. Mary In JCS!!! ( but I would love to do Velma in Chicago :)"

Your favorite part about working at ABT?

"The family aspect of it. Yes, they are professional and it IS a job, but it's a family!!! "

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CLICK HERE for more information on Jesus Christ Superstar, playing through April 16th at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

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