Rick Johnson and Tyler Cranor will take the stage in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in a Theater in the Park production in Bend this week. photo by Charlie Kanzig
Rick Johnson and Tyler Cranor will take the stage in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in a Theater in the Park production in Bend this week. photo by Charlie Kanzig

Sisters middle and high school choir director Rick Johnson has the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" which runs August 24 and 25 in Bend's Drake Park as this year's Theater in the Park production.

Additionally, Tyler Cranor, band teacher for Sisters School District, serves as the assistant musical director and bass player for the production.

The musical originally played on Broadway from 1971-73, with an eight-year run in London from 1972-1980 as well, and has been produced in theaters world-wide ever since.

The story, loosely based on the Gospels, is told through the viewpoint of Jesus' betrayer, Judas Iscariot, who loves Jesus, but does not believe Jesus is truly God and fears what the repercussions of Jesus' influence will have culturally and politically.

Johnson finds the role to be quite challenging in this complex, and sometimes controversial, production. If playing the part of the Son of God is not hard enough in itself, part of the test for Johnson, who played this same role in 2005, stems from the fact that Judas's actions and opinions stir up a lot of anger.

"It has been challenging to find the character of Jesus through the eyes of Judas. For example, a majority of Jesus' dialog and music are quite angry - for Judas wants to show the world that history was written wrong. As an actor playing Jesus, I must find a way to reflect the anger of Judas' viewpoint, but also be kind enough to have a following of tons of people and start a huge movement."

He is thankful for a second shot at the role.

"Years ago, I played the role as a much more angry character," he said. "I am thankful to have the opportunity to play the role again, for it has definitely changed in my mind. I am now playing the role as a kind and magnetizing character who is sometimes misunderstood by Judas and his other followers. Every decision that my character makes is from a caring heart and an understanding of what he has foreseen the end to be. In the show, Jesus knows the demise that is coming in his last days, he is trying to teach his followers all that he can before he leaves the earth."

He continued, "Jesus is a very difficult role mentally and physically. Mentally, Jesus must deal with his upcoming death while teaching his followers who don't quite understand. Physically, Jesus's last days are very violent. My character gets really beat up in the second act - 39 lashes, not to mention the crucifixion."

Johnson is no stranger to the stage.

"I was last seen on stage in Central Oregon playing the lead role (Zach) in "A Chorus Line" at the Tower Theatre. I think that was the fall of 2016. Before that, I was seen as The Emcee in "Cabaret," Franz in "The Producers," Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors," RiffRaff in "The Rocky Horror Show," Phantom in a concert version of "Phantom of the Opera," and Amos in "Chicago" (all at the Tower Theatre). Before these shows, I worked quite a lot with 2nd Street Theater, Cascades Theatrical Company, and Obsidian Opera Company."

As performance directors, both Johnson and Cranor believe it is important for them to take part in productions outside the walls of the school.

"I think it is very important to continue to perform professionally whenever possible. It keeps my technical abilities and musical ears as sharp as possible. This aids in my ability to bring the best out of my music students, and also sets a strong example of how music can remain a permanent part of your life after school," Cranor said.

Johnson concurs, "As a music teacher, I am able to share my 'real-life' performing experiences with my students. I believe that these experiences show my students more of the reasons why I teach them particular things in class," he said. "I love that I can continue performing as I teach. It keeps my performing skills fresh and allows the students to see me practicing what I teach daily in class."

Both men hope that people will come out and see the local talent represented in the musical, including Rhonda Schantz of Sisters and 2016 SHS graduate Rob Merola.

"I just really want as many people as possible to get out and enjoy the level of artistry that's possible in Bend," said Cranor. "I feel the fine arts scene has grown significantly, as demonstrated by our ability to perform this show at a high level. There is so much talent around here, and it needs to be continually supported to ensure that events like this keep taking place."

Johnson said, "I encourage everyone to come see this production. It is not your typical musical. It is a rock opera, complete with electric guitar, electric bass, and drum set and represents amazing talent from here in Central Oregon."

Tickets may still be available at bendticket.com.