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29th Jan 2023

New version of Jesus Christ Superstar launches with non-binary Jesus and a female Judas

Charlie Herbert

‘It’s the same story and songs but the audience will view it from a different perspective’

A university in Scotland has launched a new version of Jesus Christ Superstar starring a non-binary actor as Jesus, with Judas Iscariot played by a woman.

Students from the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group last night (January 24) launched their version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s much-loved musical, which was first performed in 1971.

It is believed to be the world’s first gender-neutral production of the rock opera.

In the adaptation, Roza Stevenson plays Jesus, while the 12 apostles are portrayed by either female or non-binary performers. A non-binary person is someone who doesn’t identify as male or female.

Creative director Lew Forman said the production had adopted “gender-blind casting” to put a modern spin on the story of Jesus’ final days.

He said: “Jesus is remembered as being a man, but who are we to decide?

“It’s the same story and songs but the audience will view it from a different perspective.”

The university was given permission by Lloyd Webber Licensing to make the production but was told the lyrics and pronouns must not be changed from the original.

This means Mary Magdalene, played by Sofia Pricolo, will sing ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, rather than ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Them’.

Forman admitted the production had “been a bit controversial” with several posters advertising it vandalised. But he added that he was not aware of any upset or anger from religious organisations towards the production.

He said: “Jesus Christ Superstar was never particularly beloved by the Christian community. It doesn’t end with the resurrection. It ends with Jesus on the cross.”

Stevenson said: “By casting the whole show gender blind, it really helps us focus on the core aspects of the characters and with the help of the fabulous production team, bring them to life.

“This decision was the reason I applied to audition.

“Being a non-binary actor is a strange line to walk.

“Being able to audition for a show where my gender presentation didn’t make a difference broke down any barriers”.

Izzy Ponsford, the director, said: “The aim was to fulfil the spectacle demanded by this epic show while retaining the delicate emotional core of the show and making the production feel as relevant to our audience as it did to audiences 50 years ago.

“Through precise use of set, costume, and lighting, I believe we have achieved a careful modernisation of this piece, fore-fronting the emotions of the story while still enjoying the show to its absolute fullest.”

The production will run at the Church Hill Theatre in Edinburgh until Saturday (January 28).