I had the great privilege about two months to perform the role of King Herod for San Diego State University’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar: In Concert. In anticipation for the concert, I was interviewed by our show’s dramaturg, Maya Greenfield Thong. Here is the article discussing about my research for the role of King Herod and what I did to prepare for the role:
Q: The Herod we see in JCS and the Herod we see in the Bible are very different people. Tell us a little bit about your interpretation of Herod.
A: You are correct, Herod in the Bible and in Superstar are two completely different people. In history, King Herod was a despicable man who killed and tortured many people during his reign and is barely mentioned in the bible. And an interesting fact, HE was actually The King of the Jews until he sold out to the Romans and betrayed his own people. In the rock operetta, Webber and Rice decided to represent this reprehensible sellout as the flamboyant comic relief in the show. Many critics and scholars have issue with the show’s portrayal and music style of Herod therefore label him as a major problem in the show. Because the character comes out of nowhere in the story and never returns, in addition to his song style being unlike anything compared to the rest of the score, it lends its way to many different interpretations. Furthermore, their arguments would not cease since Herod has been played as a full-out drag queen, a Vegas crooner, a smarmy sort of used car salesman, and everything in between. Furthermore, many of my theater friends when I told them I was to play Herod asked me if I was going to play him as a nance (which is a usual stable when actors perform Herod).
The combination of the scholars’ criticisms and the usual interpretations of Herod, made me really question how I was to honor the actual King Herod, Webber/Rice’s Herod, in addition to creating my own vision and trying not to be another actor trying to make the same choice of a flamboyant Herod. I realized that I had to cast all those thoughts aside, create my own interpretation, and bring a little of myself into the character, no matter if it came out flamboyant or how it came across to an audience. I also had the help of Stephen (our terrific director) for his guidance and what he interpreted. He used different references of characters, shows and archetypes for me to understand what his vision was of the character. Examples included a “Let’s Make A Deal” TV Show host (inspired by the 2012 Arena Tour of Superstar), Elton John, Adam Lambert (on which my outfit is based upon), Billy Flynn from Chicago, and even our President elect. In addition to what Stephen wanted from the character, I added inspirations of the Emcee in Cabaret, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman and Terrance Mann. So, Herod is really a melting pot of so many different inspirations combined into one man.
Throughout the song, I try to ringlead Jesus into performing his talked about miracles. My intention is to expose him as the circus freak he really his (changing water into wine, raising from the dead) and it strongly gets on my nerves when he does not say or do anything. In addition, throughout my song I also mock and make fun of him for being a “king”, a superstar, a jew and God himself through my sarcastic tongue and cheek tone.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the audience about Herod? The show?
A: What I love about Superstar is that it’s very much like a Shakespeare play in which each production is different and interpreted. What’s special about San Diego State’s production is THIS is the way Superstar was meant to be seen and the correct way to be done. As a rock concert. This show I think was not very well suited for actual storytelling and suffers for it, as evident of the 1974, 2000, 2012 Broadway productions in addition to the 1974 and 2000 films. Scott Miller in his book “From Assassins to West Side Story: The Director’s Guide To Musical Theatre” furthers this argument my stating, “Because the show was recorded in the studio before it was staged, it was originally written for the ears, not the eyes, and some of the score is very difficult to stage adequately, especially for audiences used to the skillful storytelling of modern pop operas like Les Miz, Rent, and others (Miller, pg.137). Therefore, San Diego State’s concert production perfectly fits the score’s needs.
Another problem that a majority of productions plague from is focusing on the singing the text instead of interpreting the text and letting the music come from the text. Because our cast is from the land of Musical Theater rather than the land of rock, there is more emphasis on the text and the emotions of the characters rather then (no pun intended) wailing to the high heavens. Our amazing music director, Rob Meffe, has given the cast and I musical liberties with the score, helping us create our own characters through the set music Webber wrote. Listening and watching my fellow cast members interpret the songs as they sing through the show is like hearing this show again for the first time.
As for Herod…buckle your seat belts, kids.
For more interviews from my other cast members and information on SDSU’s JCS, go to https://sdsujcs.wordpress.com/