By Joel Pierson H-T Theater columnist
I usually look forward to writing my column. Through it, I get to share exciting theater news with the people of this community. But today that exciting news is tinged with a little melancholy, because George Pinney is directing his farewell performance for the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. After an amazing 30 years in the department, George is hanging it up in favor of retirement, so I’m happy for him and sad for us.
In the interest of going out in style, Pinney has chosen to direct the 1971 musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The duo’s second effort at pillaging the Bible for hits resulted in a hippie-friendly retelling of the gospels that has had a strong following for the past 45 years.
If you know your Bible, then a synopsis is a bit superfluous here. Let me instead say that the musical presents song after memorable song about Christ and his followers in his final days on Earth. Mary Magdalene features prominently, with such songs as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” as does Judas Iscariot, whose role in the crucifixion is presented as an inevitable, unalterable occurrence, one he wants no part of.
Of the show, Pinney says, “Having wanted to direct ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ since I saw the first national concert tour back in 1971, I have always been intrigued by the lyric, ‘If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be.’ This ambiguous statement about faith is fully explored and debated through the actors’ intentions, the soaring music, and the spectacle created by costumes, sets, lights, and sound, wedded with a passionate creative team and enormously talented acting company.”
I asked Pinney how it felt to be on the cusp of his final IU production, and he replied, “Elated and terrified all at the same time. But truly, the students are making every minute of this final shot an absolute dream.” I then asked if he’d be doing anything especially extravagant and surprising for this show, and he gave me only a hint by saying, “Oh, yes! This production is full of surprises created by a dynamite team that gives excitement a whole new meaning.” Well played, Professor. Well played.
Bloomington won’t feel quite like Bloomington without George in it, but his plans may just take him a bit out of reach. He told me, “Scott and I plan to transition to a house on a lake with a kayak on the dock in the midst of a vibrant art scene. With family and friends close by, we are seriously considering the Berkshires (in Massachussetts).”
He offered a personal message to local audiences: “Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, love and joy. I always have said, ‘The final character to a production is the audience.’ Bloomington theatergoers are first-class leading players!”
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If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance
WHAT: “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4-5, 8-12; 2 p.m. Nov. 12
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington
TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.
Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times.