High octane. Very immersive. Totally punked out.
Those are just a few of phrases The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble artistic director David I. L. Poole uses to describe the group’s latest production, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The award-winning director is beyond excited when he talks about his new show: “Even the first run-through performance blew me away, and that doesn’t happen often.
“We try to set the bar higher and higher, and this show does that,” he adds.
The Collective Face will open its sixth season Sept. 8 with the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The very popular early ’70s phenomenon is loosely based on the last days in the life of Jesus Christ and is set entirely against a rock music score. There is no spoken dialogue.
The show will run at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 24. All performances are at the Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium on the Savannah State University campus and are produced in partnership with the SSU drama group Players by the Sea.
“Each year we pick a theme for our productions and this year’s focus is marginalized measures,” Poole explains. “This show is definitely about marginalization.
“… Our show asks, if Jesus lived today, would we recognize him? … In our version, he is the rock star, but we stay true to the original and there are some heavy moments at the end.”
Meaning there is a crucifixion scene.
Poole says the show has been on his bucket list for years and hasn’t been performed in Savannah in a long time.
“I just thought, this is the year … It’s time for someone to do it again. Let’s take a bit of a risk so we can grow and our audience can grow along with us.
“… We address the social issues we are seeing today … but without a heavy-handed approach. We want to stay true to the original intent of the musical.
“… This is going to be a real rock ‘n’ roll, high-octane punk concert, but still true to the original.”
“I love it because it’s so immersive. It really feels like you are at a real punk rock concert. It’s a lot of fun.”
And he adds the performers in the show have truly excellent voices. “I think people are going to be really surprised by their performances.”
He says even the performers have been surprised by the show. “I’ve had several actors tell me, ‘When I heard ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ I was like, really? I wanted to hate it, but it’s so phenomenal.’”
Poole explains that the audience will become immersed in the production from the moment they walk into the theater, as the lobby is “all punked out” with graffiti, cut-out magazine photos and more.
During the show, there will be glow sticks, actors will throw out T-shirts and they have even removed the front row of seats to make room for a mosh pit.
Lighting and set design is by Collective Face technical director Michael Moynihan, who has experience lighting rock shows. Musical director is Robert Cottle, and JinHi Soucy Rand, formerly of Muse Arts Warehouse, will team up with Poole once again as assistant director.
And Poole cannot say enough wonderful things about the group of actors he is directing for this show.
Savannah State University graduate Michael Knowles portrays Jesus. “He actually lives in Atlanta and came back here just to perform this role.”
Savannah theater veterans Dan Finn and Cecilia Tran Arango will play the roles of Judas and Mary Magdalene.
Other cast members include Juan Miguel Vidales as Simon, Daniel Beam as Caiaphas, Montrice Anderson as Peter, Philip Trossarello as Annas, J. Frank Lynch as King Herod and Mark Rand as Pilate.
Rounding out the cast in a variety of roles, including the Apostles, are Jason Arons, Maya Caldwell, Travis Coles, Anna Claire Edenfield, Alana Greenburg, JinHi Soucy Rand, Emily Rice, Jake Roberts, Gary Shelby, Brandon Spaulding and LaDonna Watts.
“If you miss this show, you’ll be sorry,” Poole says with a laugh. “I would make reservations because everyone will be talking about this show.”
For those not familiar with The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble, Poole says the group was founded in 2009 when a group of local theater professionals wanted to prove that the theater was not dying in Savannah.
“We were all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and said, ‘Let’s start a theater company.’”
Several years later they became a nonprofit repertory company and have continued to maintain full theater seasons throughout the years with the help of a home base at the former Muse Arts Warehouse.
But when Muse closed last year, Poole says they were lucky to find a new home and partnership with Savannah State University and the SSU drama students.
“We have about 25 active repertory members now … and we try to do four shows each year — a musical, comedy, drama and something Americana.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Jesus Christ Superstar”
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23; 3 p.m. Sept. 10, 17, 24
Where: Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium, Savannah State University
Cost: $25; $20 seniors, students, active military; $5 SSU students, faculty
Info: collectiveface.org or 912-232-0018