CHRISTIAN SINGER CAST AS JUDAS (ARTS & CULTURE)
April 23, 2000
Byline: David Belcher For the Journal
Albuquerque native Tony Vincent has landed a pivotal role in the Broadway revival of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
NEW YORK A Christian rock singer lands on Broadway in "Jesus Christ Superstar." A clever bit of casting, the theater gods might say. Then, in an ironic twist of biblical casting, that singer is recast as Judas, that most un-Christianlike of characters.
This is the saga of Albuquerque native Tony Vincent, a 26-year-old singer and actor who has landed the coveted and pivotal role as Judas, friend and betrayer to Christ, in the Broadway mega-revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 30-year-old musical.
Yet this show still carries a stigma to which Judas might even relate since many Christians still consider it blasphemous to portray Jesus Christ in a rock opera. But what about a Christian rock star who was born after the initial controversy that greeted the original London and Broadway productions, as well as the popular 1973 movie?
"It's interesting because I have always had this preconceived notion that Judas is an evil character," Vincent said. "However, being able to be Jesus' best friend is a completely different spin, especially since I didn't know the show."
And even if Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice have taken certain liberties with the greatest story ever told, Vincent finds it compelling theatrically.
"This musical character is not biblically based," he said, "and while I don't necessarily think it's true, it's an interesting take on this person, because of the love that he had, and because he was forced to do what he did because of love, makes him a much more vulnerable and believable character."
A DEMANDING ROLE
Although Vincent said he was unfamiliar with "Jesus Christ Superstar" before being cast in this production, he is no stranger to mixing music with the teachings of Jesus Christ. He has recorded three Christian rock albums: 1993's "Love Falling Down," a self-titled album released in 1995, and "One Deed," released in 1997.
Since then, Vincent has been busy touring with his own music and in the world of musical theater. He covered the lead roles of Roger and Mark in the Broadway and touring productions of "Rent" for a year and a half. He then was cast in the film remake of "Jesus Christ Superstar," due out this fall on PBS, as well as the Broadway production.
He plays Simon Zealotes in the film and was originally cast in the same role for Broadway.
On April 4, he was told he would be playing Judas after the role was recast at the last minute. He had to learn the material within hours, get on stage before a preview audience and be prepared for the critics within a week.
In an interview last Sunday, which coincidentally was Palm Sunday and the opening night of "Jesus Christ Superstar," Vincent made time for a quick interview about his high-profile role in the first Broadway revival of this popular musical.
With only hours to go before the opening night performance, Vincent seemed calm for a young star tackling one of musical theater's most demanding roles. Judas is not only a hated character, he also belts out some of Lloyd Webber's most high-pitched and emotional music. Landing a role like this is the stuff of theater legend, especially when a young singer is pulled from the ranks of the chorus and given a major role.
"I love the option of having the opening and closing tracks to his show," he said humbly, "but it's a very communal feeling. Even though I have the first solo, the director has brought this company together by challenging us and empowering us to overcome our fears. I don't feel like I'm alone out there."
And this is no ordinary Judas alone onstage. Those familiar with this character from the film version of "Superstar" will be quite surprised to see Vincent decked out in leather pants, a T-shirt and a black leather jacket.
With spiked hair bleached shocking white, Vincent looks more like a hip, nightclub circuit boy than a biblical villian. No togas and Roman sandals here this is strictly "Superstar" for the "Rent" crowd.
"It's very exciting to be part of a new generation of theater young people changing the way theater is viewed, as well as getting involved in it," Vincent said. "This production is along the same genre of that 'Rent' wave. The music is 30 years old but the approach is very "Rent"-esque. I think theater in general is becoming more contemporary."
CHRISTIAN ROCK CAREER
Vincent has been singing since childhood, although his exposure to musical theater may be considerably less. A native of Albuquerque, he attended La Cueva High School, where he was introduced to synthesizers and the art of sampling. Vincent became intrigued with technology and music production. He worked a part-time job to buy his first keyboard, began writing music and attended Belmont University in Nashville in 1991, where he created his own independent record company from his college dorm room.
After promoting his album to local record stores, "Love Falling Down" received local airplay around Nashville. Soon after the song hit the national Christian rock charts, EMI's Starsong Records came knocking and signed Vincent to a contract in 1994. His first solo album with Starsong, "Tony Vincent," was released in April 1995. It produced four No. 1 hits on the Christian charts, including "Simple Things," "Out of My Hands" and "Whole New Spin." He toured for two years before teaming with producer Dennis Matkosky and engineer David Leonard, who has worked with Bare Naked Ladies, for his second album, "One Deed."
It's been a whirlwind few years for this young star, although he had an early start in music and pop music. Vincent was in a production of "Oliver!" at the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera Association (now Musical Theatre Southwest) when he was 12, portrayed Richard in a high school production of "The Lion in Winter" and had other small roles around Albuquerque. He has been singing pop music since childhood, but discovered Christian music later.
"It wasn't until I was in high school that my faith was really affected," Vincent said. "It made sense because I didn't like what I was hearing (in Christian rock) so I felt I could change that market into the pop field. I tried to give it a new spin."
Vincent hasn't had time to focus on his pop career during his sporadic time in New York, but he plans to do so after his one-year contract with "Superstar."
"Music is my passion. That's the thing that drives me," he said.
His parents, Peter and Linda Strascina of Albuquerque, attended the opening night performance. His younger sister, Francesca, also lives in Albuquerque and is a singer. She and Tony grew up singing together, he said.
It's been a natural progression from there to Broadway.
"When I was offered to cover the role of Judas only days before I got the role, I realized that he absolutely has the best material in the show," Vincent said. "He has the space to sing and tell the story. It's simply a great opportunity."
If you go
WHAT: "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 43rd Street west of Broadway, New York City
HOW MUCH: $25 to $80. Call Ticketmaster at (800) 755-4000 or order online at www.ticketmaster.com
PHOTO BY: IVAN KYNCEL
"JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR": The company of "Jesus Christ Superstar" performs on Broadway in the revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera.
PHOTO BY: JOAN MARCUS
PLAYING JUDAS: Albuquerque native Tony Vincent is portraying Judas in the current production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway.