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Stratford's Jesus Christ Superstar cast told to keep schedules open

Paul Nolan as Jesus in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of esus Christ Superstar.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival/David Hou

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is betting that its production of Jesus Christ Superstar will have a life somewhere - possibly Broadway - well into 2012. Cast members of Des McAnuff's acclaimed production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical have been asked not to pursue roles at the festival next season if they want to continue on with the show after Stratford, The Globe and Mail has learned.

That means the festival's young stars Chilina Kennedy, Paul Nolan and Josh Young - who play Mary Magdelene, Jesus and Judas respectively - may not be on hand in Stratford for its 60th anniversary season. The same goes for old pros and festival favourites Brent Carver, who plays Pontius Pilate, and Bruce Dow, who plays King Herod.

"We are committed to keeping the Jesus Christ Superstar company together and we hope the production will have a life beyond La Jolla but there are absolutely no concrete plans at the moment," says McAnuff in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. "All of the actors in the current company have been invited to stay with the show. We are asking those who want to go to La Jolla not to pursue roles in the 2012 season until we know whether further plans for JCS can be made."

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Stratford already announced that its Jesus Christ Superstar will be headed to La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in November, but a growing chorus of international critics has called for the show to head to New York as soon as possible.

The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones raved about McAnuff's production and suggested that it was "probably" going to Broadway, while revered British critic Michael Billington of the Guardian wrote - after a rare trip to Canada - that "McAnuff's production, proclaimed the best ever by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, already seems destined for Broadway after its Stratford run."

British showbiz snoop Baz Bamigboye - who seemingly has a direct line to Lloyd Webber - was even more certain in his much-read column in The Mail on Sunday. "The show is transferring to La Jolla in California in November and there are talks about it going to Broadway — which will happen," he wrote.

More New York critics are headed up to Stratford next week for the opening of The Homecoming with Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette. If they - particularly the ever-influential New York Times - enjoy the production as much as the Canadians, Chicagoans and Brits have, the Broadway-bound momentum may be unstoppable.

Not having a crystal ball in my possession, I'm not going to hazard a guess on whether New York will work out - but with the ultimatum delivered to cast members it definitely seems as if Stratford expects the production to have a life after La Jolla. (There are murmurs of interest from Chicago, I hear.)

According to my sources at the festival, the stars of the show are all planning to go along for the ride, however far it takes them. Only a few lesser-known members who see this as their opportunity to advance up the rungs in the company in its 60th anniversary season have decided to skip out on the Jesus Christ Superstar road trip.

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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