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Lloyd Webber's Stratford trip spurs Superstar chatter

Andrew Lloyd Webber with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar on the stage of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's Avon Theatre, after the Lord Lloyd Webber attended the Saturday evening performance.

Terry Manzo/Terry Manzo / CP

Could there be an afterlife for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of Jesus Christ Superstar?

Many theatre watchers are asking that very question after Andrew Lloyd Webber, who scored the music for the epic rock opera, dropped by the festival in southwestern Ontario last Saturday.

Festival spokeswoman Ann Swerdfager says the London-based theatre magnate watched an evening performance of the production, which is directed by Des McAnuff and is nabbing rave reviews.

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He also visited the actors backstage after the show and caught an afternoon performance of Camelot.

When asked whether Lloyd Webber is negotiating something with McAnuff regarding Jesus Christ Superstar, including a possible run on Broadway, Swerdfager said in an email: "I am unaware of any negotiations but the Festival would love to see the production have a life beyond this season."

A composer-lyricist since the start of his career, McAnuff has found much success with pop-rock musicals on Broadway, earning a Tony Award for directing The Who's Tommy and a Tony nomination for helming Jersey Boys.

In a recent interview, he said he first felt an affinity for Jesus Christ Superstar when he heard the hit 1970 album that inspired the musical.

Jesus Christ Superstar, which originally debuted on Broadway in 1971, is about the last week of Christ's life. As his followers hail him as the Son of God, disciple Judas Iscariot is compelled to quell the religious fervour, fearing it will have negative repercussions.

Paul Nolan plays Jesus in the Stratford production that opened June 3, alongside Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene and Josh Young as Judas. Other cast members include Tony winner Brent Carver, who plays Pontius Pilate, and Bruce Dow, who plays King Herod.

"It's definitely a brand-new production," said McAnuff, who is also director emeritus of La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.

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"The piece itself is about the man. It's very much a secular love triangle. It doesn't really dwell on the question of whether or not Jesus is the son of God; it looks at Jesus as a remarkable man."

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