Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is on its 50th anniversary tour.
Where did the years go?
It might seem a bit odd to see the production as we enter Advent and the Christmas season for Catholics and Christians, but this is a milestone…fifty years.
I must thank artist Aaron LaVigne who plays Jesus in this production that comes to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre for taking the time to be profiled for this series.
He is an actor-singer-songwriter originally from Cincinnati & based in NYC. He is honored to be playing the iconic role of Jesus in the 50th Anniversary production of Jesus Christ Superstar! Theater Highlights: Broadway: Spider-Man. Off-Broadway: RENT. National Tour: RENT. Regional & Concerts: tick,tick...BOOM!, Jesus Christ Superstar, Civil War. Aaron writes, performs, & tours his original music & is available on all major streaming platforms. B.F.A. Northern Kentucky University.
We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thank you so much for your time, Aaron. I’m looking forward to seeing the production in Toronto:
Could you share the names of one teacher and one mentor for whom you are thankful.
Ooooo, this is tough.
We’re going to go with some OG situations here.
Okay, I could not, not thank Miss Connie Saho, La Salle High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, my high school Drama teacher who, when I was a Senior, I got the bug to start doing all this stuff. She’s been pushing me to try and do this since my freshman year, and I finally did it when I was a Senior.
One mentor? Oh my gosh…let’s see here…….oh, man, oh, man, oh man…I could go with another teacher in college. I’m thinking of one. I would have to say Joe Conger at Northern Kentucky University. When I first started doing theatre, he was the Chair of the department even though he never taught me. He was an amazing mentor for me and put up with all of my young antics and guided me in spite of who I was.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 -19 months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?
Oh my God, that is a loaded answer.
I think, generally speaking, my tolerance for bullshit has gone down quite a bit. I think there were a lot of things that happened during the pandemic where a lot of skeletons came out of a lot of closets. Through social media we figured out who some people were and who some weren’t.
I’ve learned to take a step back from things that I couldn’t tolerate because I don’t think it’s a way to live anymore. I don’t want to be angry or upset with things that I can’t control or don’t have any say over.
I just look for the good in the people around me. That’s been my biggest change, and the other one is to be a little more forgiving of everyone and for who we are under such tough circumstances. This has been a long time since this has been going on, and for lots of people who lost jobs and many industries, including mine, I think a little tolerance and a little patience goes a long way.
I’m trying to take that with me and I’m hoping people around me will also practice that if I have influence on anybody at all.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
Well, I understand where you’re coming from, but I think these two questions for me are intertwined. I bring so much of myself to my artistry and commitment to it.
As an artist I have empathy for the world especially for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and for the role I’m playing. The role requires a lot of getting knocked down in order to portray a decent version of this character.
The world is fucked up right now and needs some healing and understanding, and in this particular production I try to bring that healing and understanding to my work everyday.
I keep that focus because when you’re in the theatre you have to realize everyone is wearing a mask. We’re just not filling up theatres, and I don’t know people’s experiences with Covid. Many have got sick and have died. I cannot assume anything about people in the audiences out there and they can’t assume anything about me.
But I can empathize with somebody out there who probably lost somebody to Covid.
There’s a whole new world in which we are living right now that we have to recognize, at least I have to be able to recognize, and make that part of my reality at this point.
In your professional opinion, how do you see the global landscape of professional theatre changing, adapting, and morphing as a result of these last 18 months?
I think we’re seeing it right in front of our eyes. Even with our Equity union, it came out with certain protocols for performing during the pandemic.
There were all these different ideas Equity and the producers had and were trying to make something happen along the way. The more they looked at it and the more watching the numbers and the waves of infection, everyone realized they required a vaccine and waited for it.
Even within that there are still strict protocols – there are no backstage tours. I’m not doing any live press events as it’s all done virtually over Zoom or the phone. There are strict testing protocols for us as company members and for audiences. People still show up at the stage door for kind words of congratulations or for autographs and pictures. It’s discouraged but if we are out there we try to maintain our distance as best we can.
We’re in the middle of this evolution and as it keeps going and the numbers go down and we learn to manage the virus better, I think we’re going to have to deal with this for a little while. The fact we’re doing live shows, live music and live theatre is coming back, we can see light at the tend of the tunnel. I think there’s going to be some ups and downs but there’s an evolution we’re in the middle of right now.
Eventually we will get there.
What intrigues/fascinates and excites Aaron LaVigne post Covid?
Hmmm…post Covid? Oh wow. Hmmmm.
I’m in a place in my life where the pandemic taught me to take care of myself first a little bit more. With self care, things then fall in line around you versus trying to take care of other people, or take care of your job or try to serve something without serving yourself in a way that helps you and lends better results. That fascinates and intrigues me.
For me, I’m just trying to take care of myself more in regard to physical and mental health. For me, it’s opened my mind to say I don’t have to be a certain way anymore to subscribe to anything on a list as a person. That transcends me just being a theatre artist or a songwriter, I’m seeing that is a vital option for the rest of my life.
At least I’m feeling that a lot more, and Covid taught me that.
What disappoints, unnerves and upsets Aaron LaVigne post Covid?
I’m all for independent thought. I’m all for freedom of speech and for all these things we have, these inalienable rights we have as humans, as Americans.
There’s something that bothers me the most when someone doesn’t know something and they presume to know something, more so than an expert who knows something. These individuals who don’t know something sometimes speak louder than those who know something.
That really bothers me and disappoints me for the bad information being spread and then perpetuating it.
I don’t have any patience left for people who spread bad information and perpetuating it. It’s so easy to find bad information these days.
With this tour being the 50th anniversary of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, how have audience reactions been so far? What is one message you hope audiences will take away from this production?
Reactions have been great from audiences. It’s been really special to be able to perform this story again.
Most people know the story of ‘Superstar’, but our version of the show is really fun and I think audiences are reacting in such a positive light.
At this time right now in Covid, people just want to be entertained. They want to see a big band, the lights, the choreography and to hear the singers sing, scream, emote and do all of the things they do.
The first time I was in a rehearsal hall with my cast was overwhelming to sing the show all the way through from top to bottom. Very overwhelming. I had to step out of the rehearsal hall for about ten minutes to compose myself and take a breath and re-evaluate everything in that moment.
I’m very grateful. I think we’re doing a really great job as a cast, as a company. We hold each other in a place where there’s a bit more love and protection surrounding our company.
The one message I hope audiences will take away…hmmm… that’s a tricky one as there are a lot of themes running through the show. I’m trying to answer from the show’s point of view, and not my point of view.
“Hold a little bit more space for other people. Hold more space than you normally would for others.”
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your mentors and teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?
“I wish I would have listened to you earlier.”
If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
“Hey, how’s it goin?” (Aaron says this with a gleeful wicked smile that sends me into laughter)
What’s your favourite swear word?
“Fuck”. You can use it in any context, funny or angry or animalistic. It’s a great word.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
With whom would you like to have dinner and discuss the current state of the live North American performing arts scene?
President Barack Obama, by far.
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
Hmmm…. “Take a breath, open your mind, open your heart.”
With the professional life experience you’ve gained, what would you now tell the upcoming Aaron LaVigne from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
“Enjoy the ride.”
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Personally, what do I want to accomplish personally? I don’t even know…maybe have kids someday. That is something I’d like to accomplish and enjoy.
Professionally? I just want to be happy doing what I’m doing.
Name one moment in your professional career that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
I worked in Hawaii for a few months as a guest artist on a cruise ship and I worked one day a week.
I could go back to that moment for awhile. It was awesome.
What is one thing Aaron LaVigne will never take for granted again post Covid?
Any of it. All of it. I don’t take anything for granted as of this point. So much gratitude.
Would Aaron LaVigne do it all again if given the same professional opportunities?
Fuck, yeah!!!! (and both he and I go into laughter)
You can follow Aaron on his website: www.aaronlavigne.com and on Instagram:@aaron_lavinay
The 50th anniversary tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar’ is slated to run at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre November 30 – January 2, 2022. For further information and to purchase tickets online, visit www.mirvish.com.