So which of these chaps is going to be a superstar He's found Maria, Joseph, Nancy and Dorothy – now Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hunting for a rock’n’roll Jesus
21:31 GMT, 29 June 2012
A chubby former cruise ship entertainer, an ex-indie band member and a 40-year-old talent show failure are not who you might expect to take on the most demanding part in musical theatre history.
But Andrew Lloyd Webber did say he wasn’t looking for someone typical to play the title role in a new, big-venue touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
‘There’s no one person who you’d say, “Ah, that looks like Jesus”,’ the 64-year-old composer warned me before I met six of the favourites to win the job. And apart from one bearded 21-year-old, I see what he means as I look around the studio where the aspiring actors have gathered to be pictured together for the first time.
From left: Seamus, Jeff, Roger, Simon (on floor), David and Adam
Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus. It opened on Broadway in 1971 and in London a year later. /06/29/article-2166439-13D12FF3000005DC-358_110x110.jpg” width=”110″ height=”110″ alt=”From left: Seamus, Jeff, Roger, Simon (on floor), David and Adam” class=”blkBorder” />
This is Seamus Cullen’s second attempt to secure a part from Andrew in a TV talent show. The 40-year-old from Chichester, West Sussex came ninth on Any Dream Will Do, the 2007 series searching for the lead actor in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But despite earning a role as Che in a production of Evita, Seamus says the experience was bruising. ‘There’s a stigma within the industry if you come from a talent show,’ he says. ‘I was hoping something would come of it but nothing did. I went back to a job doing ad sales.’ For some time Seamus considered quitting singing altogether, but after starting to teach it, his dream returned. ‘I decided performance is in my heart and soul,’ he says. ‘When I saw Andrew again at the audition he said, “We’ve been here before, haven’t we”’
JEFF, THE BEARDED ROCKER
On paper, 21-year-old Jeff Anderson from Northern Ireland has all the credentials for the role. For a start, he received a singing award for his stint playing Jesus in an amateur production of the musical staged in Belfast last November. But he’s well aware of the pitfalls of the part. ‘There were Christian groups protesting outside the shows. They didn’t approve of it. They thought it made light of Jesus. It was full-on,’ he recalls.
Jeff’s love for theatre developed in his teens. ‘On the surface I was a beastly rugby player at school, but at home I used to dance around the kitchen,’ he laughs. Visually, Jeff, who is studying vocal production at university, looks like a stereotypical Jesus, with long dark hair and bushy beard. He grew both for his role as an extra on Sky Atlantic drama Game Of Thrones. ‘On nights out people will yell, “Hey, there’s Jesus.” But more think I look like Russell Brand!’
Andrew has made it clear he is looking for a rock singer to take the part, and Jeff has that area covered too, being a member of the band Wanted Alive. So would he quit the group if he landed the coveted part ‘No, they’re my best friends. They’ll wait for me if I get the part, and I’m committed to them.’
ROGER, THE FORMER MODEL
three years playing Simba in the West End production of The Lion King,
Roger Wright is the most experienced professional to audition for Jesus.
But the charismatic 41-year-old Londoner, who was born in the UK but
has Caribbean-born parents, has a point to prove. ‘It would be a big
thing to have a black Jesus,’ he says. ‘But there’s no reason why not,
if the public are open-minded. Andrew’s been very encouraging.’ Roger
spent a decade as a fashion model before becoming a musical performer.
His agent was a pre-fame Davina McCall. ‘She was such a pro and got me a
lot of work. I’ll invite her to the shows if I get through,’ he says.
SIMON, THE LAW STUDENT
Trying to break into the West End has
been a difficult decision for Dundee law student Simon Gordon, 21. ‘If I
win, my studies will be put to one side because I want a career in
music. But my dad, who’s a businessman, thinks it’s a distraction,’ he
says quietly. ‘He wants to make sure I have a bit of security.’
The part-time wedding singer has performed in musical theatre since he
was five and knows this is a big opportunity that also carries risks.
‘If you do something wrong it could have a big effect on the rest of
your career – and mine hasn’t even started yet!’
DAVID, THE POP IDOL
In his early 20s David Hunter performed in front of thousands as part of indie group Reemer, who toured with boy band McFly. But despite being on the cusp of stardom the band split, and Warrington lad David moved to London to break into the theatre scene. Now 27 and a trained actor, his biggest break came as understudy for The Office star Oliver Chris in the National Theatre production of One Man, Two Guvnors. Of the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar, David says, ‘It’s my dream role. When I found out I was auditioning I went home, locked myself in a room and made sure I could make all the high notes. I was so relieved when I could. It’s the most vocally demanding part.’
ADAM, THE CRUISE SHIP SINGER
Performance is in the blood of 44-year-old Adam Weldon from Stourbridge in the West Midlands. His parents, Michel Henri and Carol Anne, are ex-world pair ice-skating champions who performed in America for much of his childhood. But a car crash when he was eight dashed his hopes of following in his parents’ footsteps. ‘I was in plaster up to my thigh for nine months,’ Adam says, ‘so I decided to learn the guitar.’
Adam’s interest in music continued into adulthood. He won an episode of talent show New Faces in 1986 and performed as a cruise singer for two decades. But three years ago he lost the ability to sing, and doctors found a large lump on his vocal cords. ‘I knew it could be cancerous,’ he says. ‘When the doctors decided they had to operate, I was told I might lose my voice for good.’ Fortunately, that didn’t happen and after taking 18 months to gain the confidence to sing again, Adam performed for the first time in front of Andrew for his first Jesus audition. ‘It was life-changing,’ he admits. ‘Andrew has been very nurturing with me.’
IN SEARCH OF A SAVIOUR… ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER FINE-TUNES HIS HUNT FOR A JESUS WITH A DIFFERENCE
In search of a saviour: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Superstar’s chief judge Andrew Lloyd Webber is convinced the British public is ready for a non-traditional Jesus, without long hair and a beard. ‘I think we’ve moved beyond that,’ he says. ‘The fact is we don’t know what Jesus looked like. All we know is he must have had amazing charisma.’
The musical legend is confident he has attracted better performers to play Jesus than he did for his BBC search for a West End Joseph, Any Dream Will Do, in 2007. ‘The standard is much higher than then. Anybody in our final 30 would have made the top ten for Joseph.’
Andrew is already working hard to prepare the finalists. ‘Vocal training is important. The voice is a muscle and you’ve got to get it into shape. If you’re trained already you have an advantage, but then again, if you’ve got a naturally great voice, training can educate some of the best aspects out of it.’
Is there any risk that, after the lack of success for The Voice on BBC1, viewers are bored with the talent show format ‘No. The talent here will speak for itself. Plus the prize isn’t about a regular record contract, it’s about somebody playing in a massive arena tour. It will be fascinating to see who the public choose.’
Superstar starts next Saturday on ITV1. For tickets for the tour, visit www.jesuschristsuperstar.com.