This interview was originally published in Creative Loafing.
When a replacement was needed to play the lead in the Broadway musical Jekyll and Hyde, theatre execs decided to look for someone from the world of rock and roll in hopes of attracting a different audience to the play, then in its fourth year. They turned to Sebastian Bach, former lead singer of the hard rock band Skid Row (who scored with hits like their Slave to the Grind album and the singles “18 and Life” and “I Remember You”). New audiences came to the show, pleasing the producers and creating a new career path for a rock and roller who was tiring of life on the road. But now that he’s starring in a revival of the “rock opera” Jesus Christ Superstar, Bach comes full circle.
“Right before Broadway,” Bach recalled in a recent telephone conversation, “I was on the road with my solo band, doing 90 dates across the U.S., and I was like, man, wouldn’t it be great if I could just play in one place and the crowds could come to me instead of all this traveling. Then I got on Broadway, so that came true. Then when I was on Broadway, I was like, man, what a drag it is that this is only in one city, I’d love to take this around to all the other cities. And now that’s exactly what I get to do. I get to bring Jesus Christ Superstar, the Broadway show, to Greenville and I’m so excited about that.”
The show arrives in town on Tuesday, January 7, for a one-week run at the Peace Center. Created by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar is, as Bach describes it, “a big gigantic production and the greatest story ever told, with great music all at the same time.” And Bach plays the title role — “some pretty big sandals to fill,” he laughs.
“Jesus,” Bach says of the role, “[is] just the nicest guy that ever lived and his followers are saluting him basically through act one, then they turn on him and betray him, especially Judas, his best friend.” Bach pauses, then adds, laughing, “I don’t think I’m giving away the plot here or anything, I think people probably know the plot. The play is basically the last seven days of his life. In two hours we tell the story of the last seven days. And it’s all music. There’s no talking — it’s all singing.”
Singing comes easily to Bach, having started as the lead soprano in a boys choir when he was only 8 years old. “That’s how I got into rock and roll,” he says. “I was already singing as a little boy, and when people were putting bands together, I could sing The Police, ‘Roxanne,’ and I used to flip everybody out doing that, and ’then when I could scream like Rob Halford in Judas Priest, I used to do that at parties and people just couldn’t believe I could do that — I couldn’t believe I could do that either!”
If singing came naturally to Bach, acting was a different story. “I did a Tom Stoppard play in high school, and when they hired me for Jekyll and Hyde they put me in intense rehearsals with Robin Phillips, the director. He had me all to himself for a month, like a crash course. He was really intense and really taught me most of the stuff I know about the stage.”
Bach realized quickly that the Broadway stage differs from the rock and roll venues he’d become used to. “When I hit the stage in rock and roll, it’s all like trying to expend and deliver as much energy as possible, and Broadway theatre is totally different. In Jesus Christ Superstar, when I first hit the stage I’m motionless, like a statue, for the first forty-five seconds — it seems like forty five years, cause I’ve got all this energy, I mean, I want to go crazy, but I can’t do that until later on in the play. So that’s the big difference — plus, no rock band does eight shows a week. I’m the only one crazy enough to tackle that kind of schedule. Seriously, no rocker could keep up with that schedule. We’re going to be doing it for almost a year, over 400 gigs, so it’s gonna be pretty crazy.”
On stage with Bach will be Carl Anderson, who played Judas in the film version of the play. It was seeing that film that convinced Bach to take the role. “The movie with Carl Anderson and Ted Neeley and directed by Norman Jewison just knocked me out, I couldn’t believe it. I like singing a lot, so I was interested right away, and when they sent me the movie that’s what solidified it for me. I really loved the movie, and of course Carl Anderson, the original Judas, is on stage with me, so that’s pretty incredible.”
Incredible also describes, for Bach, the experience of seeing the show. “There’s a lot of emotion,” he says. “It’s music, like a choir, telling the story in a rock and roll setting. It’s a rock opera. To be able to present that to my fans is really cool, and I really enjoy that. I like presenting my fans with the most mind blowing experience possible.”
Jesus Christ Superstar runs Jan. 7 – 12 at the Peace Center. For tickets, call the box office at 864-467-3000 or 800-888-7768.