Jesus Christ Superstar Comes to the Hobby, This Time With Dancing

Elvie Ellis (foreground) and Isaac Ryckeghem (sunglasses) in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Elvie Ellis (foreground) and Isaac Ryckeghem (sunglasses) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

After graduating from college with a degree in vocal performance that focused on classical pieces and opera, Isaac Ryckeghem needed a job and after some work in opera, found that musical theater offered the most opportunity.

Not that his operatic training in projection and stamina has gone to waste, especially when he faces five show weekends (Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night, Sunday afternoon and night) with some regularity.

Later this month he'll be in Houston as Caiaphas in the Broadway at the Hobby production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice, first performed in 1971. Ryckeghem has played the part before (right before this tour for the Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut)  — and one of the reasons he likes it that he's a bass and music theater tends to have a lot more tenor roles  — and, in fact, calls it a dream role.

Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, wants Jesus out of the way. He's afraid that the Romans will react badly to Jesus' increasing number of followers and that in an attempt to wipe out that threat, many innocent Jews will be hurt or die. So he determines that it is better if Jesus dies.

"I think in this particular production Caiaphas lets Pilate know about the trouble Jesus is causing,"  Ryckeghem says . "There sort of are mixed feelings on the way that everything goes down with him being lashed and crucified, but I think he joins the crowd in all of that.

"So I do see him as a bad, evil character but there is part of it that plays to the other side as well," Ryckeghem says.

This is a somewhat retooled version of the original and Broadway Across America is billing this as "The reimagined 50th Anniversary Tour" edition. Ryckeghem says rather than a "park and bark" there is a lot more movement than in the original 1970s production.

"The specific part of that that people don't see coming is the choreography. There’s a lot more dancing in our production than there has been in productions past."

"The show was originally written as a concert series so it was really just a band onstage with people coming up and singing and so it was more of a vocal acrobatic show before. I think that given that we’re playing to a lot larger audiences and in a lot larger theaters, the dance spectacle that it really needs to be entertaining to the masses. I think it really adds to the emotion of the show," he says.

The rock opera centers on the last days of Jesus's life on earth leading to his crucifixion. The musical's songs move the action along and depict his relationship with all the players: disciples, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Judas, Caiaphas and Annas. Jack Hopewell stars as Jesus, joined by Elvie Ellis as Judas and Faith Jones as Mary.

Other cast members include Jack Hopewell as Jesus, Elvie Ellis as Judas, Faith Jones as Mary. Nicholas Hambruch as Pilate, and Kodiak Thompson as Annas.

Well known songs from Jesus Christ Superstar include "I Don't Know How to Love Him," "Gethsemane" and "Jesus Must Die," the last of which is now presented "in a sort of fun boy band concept. It sort of lightens the mood of what we're actually conspiring," Ryckeghem says. Despite other changes, he says this show really hangs onto the '70s classic rock sound.

"I think people will come to this with the mindset of the old album. I know a lot of people that aren't musical or religious that play it around Easter time. It's become a household name," Ryckeghem said.

"I think people should see it for people who knew it in the '70s, I think it will bring them right back to that and just show it in a retelling that I think is unprecedented."

Performances are scheduled for January 17-22 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For more information, call 800-982-2787 or visit or $35-$
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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