If you go
What: “Jesus Christ Superstar”
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and also Aug. 3 and 4; and 3 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 5
Where: Crestview High School Performing Arts Center, 44100 Crestview Road, Columbiana
Tickets: $12 ($10 for senior citizens and students) at the door; for reservations, call 1-800-838-3006 or go to brownpapertickets.com
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
An old favorite will get a fresh presentation at a new venue when Millennial Theatre Company presents “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Crestview High School’s performing arts center this weekend and next.
Millennial is the youthful Valley theater company that focuses on works that reflect the beliefs and ideals of the millennial generation – those who are roughly between age 18 and 35.
So how does “Superstar” fit into its wheelhouse, considering the Andrew Lloyd-Webber masterpiece premiered in 1971, long before any millennial was born?
Easily, according to Joe Asente, the theater’s 22-year-old founder and artistic director.
“We chose it for two reasons,” he said. “It has always been one of those shows that a lot of theater companies are afraid to tackle, and Millennial prides itself on doing the shows that others won’t. “Another reason is that when the live musical production premiered on NBC [on Easter Sunday of this year], there was a lot of buzz on social media from people of the millennial generation. We had no idea how strongly they connected with it.”
Of course, the rock opera about the final days of Jesus is among the most popular modern musicals for all age groups. It has been captivating audiences worldwide for decades, with its edgy staging, brilliant music and one gripping scene after another.
Millennial’s production will be along the lines of the NBC production.
“It will be very modern, very millennial,” said Asente, who is an English teacher in the Girard School District. “The characters will not look traditional, but what they should look like now, based on the traditional character. Jesus, for example, will be clad in a long, flowing hooded sweatshirt that is white.”
Asente had high praise for his cast. “Josh Fleming as Judas will be a highlight, and Jacob Nash as Jesus is fantastic,” he said.
Millennial Theater has partnered with Rust Belt Theater several times since it was founded in 2016. Robert Dennick Joki, founder and director of Rust Belt, will play Herod.
“He brings a unique take to Herod,” said Asente. “There is a tendency to play Herod solely as over the top and flamboyant and not much more” and Joki departs from that norm.
Mariah Cresanto plays Mary Magdalene. Asente directs, while Savannah Florkowski is music diretor.
Millennial’s production will use scaffolding as the dominant set piece. “It gives us an urban, industrial and modern feel, but still allows us to stage things traditionally,” said Asente.
Music will be provided by a six-piece rock band that will be on stage for the entire performance. “We wanted to bring a rock-concert vibe,” said Asente. “[The show] is best done when staged more as a rock concert than a traditional theatrical production, so including the band as part of show will bring that out.”
Making its debut in the production will be the venue itself, at least as part of the community theater scene.
Crestview High’s performing arts center is new, and the school district envisioned renting it to outside theater groups when it was built, said Asente.
“We are the first ones outside of their own school performances to use it,” he said.
Though Asente is young, he has 15 years of theater experience. He started at the Youngstown Playhouse in 2003, and has since appeared in shows at Trumbull New Theater, Kent State-Trumbul Theater and Top Hat Productions.
By 2016, the Girard native and Ohio University graduate had appeared in about 50 shows and wanted to branch out into directing.
There was not a lot of interest in a director as young as he was, so he started his own theater.
Millennial has already produced a half-dozen shows, starting with a 2016 production of “Heathers” at Akron Civic Theatre.
It most recently produced “The Blame Game” – an original play that addressed the issue of sexual assault – at Rust Belt’s venue in Calvin Center.