Love Acts: Reimagining 'Jesus Christ Superstar' With An All-Female Cast

Photo: She Is Risen EPK
Reimagining Of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' With Only Women
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In late 2016, we were planning to stage a concert of Jesus Christ Superstar where all of the principal roles, traditionally played by men, would instead be cast as women. 

Then, despite the broadcasting of a shocking Access Hollywood video, and a campaign of revolting rhetoric, Donald Trump was elected President. 

This further shaped the concert’s conceptualization.

We used Superstar’s iconic overture to chronicle the oppression of women, from Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden to Clinton’s defeat at the ballot box. 

When Christ and his disciples took to the streets of Jerusalem, we saw Suffragettes, Civil Rights, LGBT Pride, and Black Lives Matter marches behind him. And when he is finally crucified, the scene crossfades to a slide show of martyrs from Joan of Arc to Sandra Bland. 

Photo: Morgan James (foreground), Ellyn Marie Marsh, Pearl Sun, and Sydney Morton at the concert at Highline Ballroom, Jan 16, 2017
Photograph by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Contemporary images like this continued throughout the performance. 

The time certainly felt right to talk about revolution. 

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The audience at the sold-out Highline Ballroom erupted. Our experiment had worked beautifully. 

The narrative of great loss at the hands of oppressive organizations of both church and state resonated. 

It felt like a time to rally, to not accept defeat, but to let our feelings of despair manifest into a movement of change. 

Four days later, many of us joined the historic Women’s March on Washington.

It became apparent that fans of our concert wanted more, and those who were not able to join us that night were desperate to hear what their friends were raving about. We set out to memorialize that night and our all-woman vision of Jesus Christ Superstar in a cast recording. 

Eighteen performers, fourteen musicians, and a choir of children — all female — were assembled to record a new studio cast concept recording, just as the authors of the original musical had done some forty years before us.

Getting permission to release the album was a struggle, but being told “wait your turn” felt only fitting to a group of women trying to do something new. 

Nevertheless, these women persisted.

On April 10, SHE IS RISEN: VOLUME I was released. 

A hauntingly beautiful five track EP containing “Heaven On Their Minds” and “Gethsemane” performed by recording artists and Broadway veterans Shoshana Bean and Morgan James respectively as well as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” sung by Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo; “Pilate’s Dream” sung by Tony Award nominee Orfeh; and “Simon Zealotes” sung by twelve time Grammy Award nominee Ledisi, and featuring Rebecca Covington Webber, Eden Espinosa, Marva Hicks, Joanne Javien, Tamika Lawrence, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Isabel Santiago, Pearl Sun, and Jasmin Walker. 

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As part of YourTango’s #LoveActs series, we were thrilled to connect recently with three Broadway superstars who are featured in She Is Risen: Shoshana Bean, Eden Espinosa, and Morgan James.  While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and Black Lives Matter protests brew across the globe, the timing of the album feels especially appropriate. 

The goal of #LoveActs is to inspire you — and millions of others — to initiate heartfelt, caring acts of love, creativity, hope and generosity in an effort to help and heal each other during these unprecedented and difficult times.

We were so pleased to get to chat with these three stars to talk about their work, how they're getting through this turbulent year, and what they’re doing and hoping for in terms of healing and getting to a better place together. 

The photo shows from L to R: Tamika Lawrence, Isabel Santiago, Pearl Sun, Eden Espinosa, Rebecca Covington Webber, Jasmin Walker, and Marva Hicks (not in view Ellyn Marie Marsh, Joanne Javien).

Photo credit: Christopher Boudewyns.

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SHOSHANA BEAN

I talked to Shoshana Bean about what life is like for her now. 

Shoshana not only appeared in SHE IS RISEN: Vol 1, but is also a veteran of the Broadway stage. Here's what we discussed: 


Shoshana Bean — photo credit: Christopher Boudewyns

Richard: What is the cause(s) you are supporting now that you would like everyone reading this article to contribute to or at least be aware of? Are there other acts of love and generosity that you’re doing to help others or that you have observed others doing that have been meaningful to you? 

Shoshana Bean: I am producing a virtual concert in lieu of the live and in-person annual event I produce every year at my alma mater to raise funds for the performing arts department! I think students need the arts now more than ever for expression, connection and community! I am also fostering a mama and 5 puppies from the Labelle Foundation

Caring for ourselves is especially important right now given the collective amount of stress, turbulence, and uncertainty we are all facing. Are you doing anything different or new to practice self-care and/or to help those closest to you?

I'm just trying to meditate, do deep breathing, take long walks, write. . .ya know, all the things I insist I have no time for in my real life!

What is your greatest fear and/or greatest hope for the future based on your experience with the COVID-19 lockdowns?

I'm not investing or giving any power to fears. They go as quickly as they come. But my greatest hope is that people will carry with them this simplicity, these renewed priorities, the ability to be with their feelings no matter how scary and the ability to really take time and space to pause and rest. 

What is the one thing you miss most right now? What is the first thing you are eager to do as soon as you are out and about again? Have you started going out or being social as yet? 

I miss New York!! And being onstage. . .

If you had a magic wand and could change how most people behave, what would you want us to understand and/or do differently?

I believe we are always only acting from fear or love. So, I would want people to always choose to act from love.

As you reflect on your life what are the one or two things you are most grateful for?

My health and my family.

Do you believe in love at first sight? (An if yes, has it happened to you and who was it with?)

I believe in recognition at first sight.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready."

What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

All of my albums, Including SHE IS RISEN: VOLUME I

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Lightning round: 

Red or white? Vodka or bourbon? Beer, water, coffee and/or green tea? 

Red, bourbon, water

Sweatpants, leggings, jeans, shorts or jammies all day?

Yoga pants

Guilty pleasure?

Ice cream

Do you go out during the day and if so, where do you go?

Go on walks

TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat?

IG: @shobean 

Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or … do you avoid showing up on video chats?!

FaceTime

Favorite Meme or Poem 

I loved this meme that said "you might as well pronounce the L in salmon. nothing matters anymore."

BIO: Shoshana Bean’s three independent solo albums have all topped the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the US and UK, with her fourth and most recent project, SPECTRUM, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Jazz charts. Shoshana is a veteran of the Broadway stage having made her debut in the original cast of Hairspray, starring as the very first replacement for Elphaba in Wicked and most recently as Jenna in Waitress. She won a IRNE Award for her performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and earned a Jeff Award nomination for her portrayal of CeeCee Bloom in the pre-Broadway musical production of Beaches.

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EDEN ESPINOSA

I also had the opportunity to connect with Eden Espinosa and find out what's been happening with her.

Eden is also well-known in the theater world, probalby most recognized for playing Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway as well as in Los Angeles and San Francisco. 


Eden Espinosa  photo credit: Christopher Boudewyns

Richard: Do you have a favorite quote?

Eden Espinosa: My favorite quote is tattooed on my arm: “Plus est en vous,” it means “there is more in you.”

As you reflect on your life what are the one or two things you are most grateful for?

Grace and faith. I always have faith that I am going to be provided for, I will be taken care of. What’s meant to be will be. I always strive to give myself and other grace at all times.

Do you believe in love at first sight? (And if yes, has it happened to you and who was it with?)

I think I believe in love at first sight but it hasn’t happened to me exactly.

I believe in social connection at first sight and have definitely experienced that: when you first see someone, look into their eyes and you know you know them now. You also have known them for quite some time, although you just met. Your souls have been connected before. They feel like home. It isn’t always a romantic connection either.

It’s certainly a vision version of love at first sight.

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What have you been up to otherwise while in isolation? 

This time at home has been a cornucopia of feelings and reflection. Especially because my industry has been completely canceled, on pause, or postponed.

This time has left me with myself. It really has made me realize that my relationship with myself is the most important. Making sure I am OK with myself, the way I behave, my habits, my passions, and my heart. The way I think, where I put my energy, how I manifest positivity or pessimism.

So, important to my well-being in a time where I have no distractions, I need to be OK with me.

If you had a magic wand and could change how most people behave, what would you want us to understand and/or do differently?

I would change the selfish nature of people and ask much more consideration for other people other than ourselves. I would want everyone to want to wear a mask ... to not only protect themselves and their family, but everyone else in their community as well.

What is your greatest fear and/or greatest hope for the future based on this experience?

My greatest fear for the future is that we will never take it as seriously as it needs to be taken and that we will never learn our lessons. My greatest hope is that we will learn our lesson and do everything in our power to flatten this curve until we have more answers.

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Lightning round: 

Red or white? Vodka or bourbon?  Beer, water, coffee and/or green tea? 

White, bourbon, coffee

Sweatpants, leggings, jeans, shorts or jammies all day?

Sweatpants

Guilty pleasure?

90 Day Fiancée 

Do you go out during the day and if so, where do you go?

I take a walk through Central Park every day, and have been biking all over Manhattan since it’s so empty. 

TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat? (please include your account handle!)

IG: @edenespinosa 

Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or … do you avoid showing up on video chats?!

Zoom. 

BIO: Eden Espinosa is most recognized for her critically acclaimed portrayal of Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway and in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other credits include originating the title character in Brooklyn, The Musical, Flora in Flora the Red Menace, and Maureen in the closing company of Rent on Broadway. Eden also originated the role of Sadie Thompson in the world premiere of Rain, at the Old Globe Theater. She portrayed Eva Peron in TPAC and Studio Tenn’s production of Evita. Her television appearances include shows such as “Law and Order,” “Ugly Betty,” and “Elementary.”  Her second album “REVELATION” of all new original music was released in January.

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MORGAN JAMES

I was also fortunate to get to chat with Morgan James, who is a singer, actress, songwriter and recording artist in New York City. 

Here's what she had to say.


Morgan James  photo credit: Christopher Boudewyns

Richard asks: What is the cause(s) you are supporting now that you would like everyone reading this article to contribute to or at least be aware of? Are there other acts of love and generosity that you’re doing to help others or that you have observed others doing that have been meaningful to you? 

Morgan James: Times like these bring out the best in (most) people, and I have been so touched and inspired to see so many people turning their time and businesses into charitable works. One company, Maker Gear, has been manufacturing and shipping custom face shields for hospital workers, and they could use funds for materials. I send them whatever I possibly can. Another great cause in NYC is “Broadway Feeds Bellevue”, which provides meals for doctors and nurses on the frontline of the pandemic. 

As far as evergreen causes, it’s always important to me to support The Actors Fund and animal rights and rescue organizations. During this time, I am fostering a family of kittens from Puppy Kitty NYC, and animal rescue organizations always need support. It’s wonderful to see the uptick in animal fosters and adoptions during this quarantine!

People with mental health issues  which is a whole lot of us!  are especially at risk now due to so much uncertainty and social distance we are experiencing. What are your observations and do you have advice for how we can help those of us who are especially vulnerable?

Well, I think therapy is incredibly important. It can and should go hand in hand with exercise, meditation, healthy food and lots of other mental health practices. I truly think everyone should be in therapy!  So that weekly conversation and continuation of my analysis has been imperative. 

How has the COVID-19 epidemic affected you and those you’re closest to personally? Have you or any one you’re close to been infected? Has anyone you love died during this terrible time? Are you close to any essential workers that you’re worried are extra vulnerable these days? 

Almost all of my friends have lost their work, for the foreseeable future. I have many friends who are sick to varying degrees, and even a couple who are still in grave danger. I have several family members who are essential workers.  There is no way for me to take this time or these precautions lightly given my daily reminders of the severity. The very least I can do is stay home and stay healthy and ride it out. 

Is there a project you’re excited about that you want trumpet far and wide? 

 I am extremely excited that we were able to launch volume one of SHE IS RISEN and will be launching volume two this summer. Our creative team has been working on this project for several years, and it’s thrilling to see it released, despite several setbacks and against the backdrop of the current world events.

Are you working? How has your work been impacted over the past couple of months?

I am so lucky to be quarantined with my husband, who is also my collaborator and music director, so we are able to make music every single day.

We’ve been doing daily videos with a quarantine theme (#quarantunes, we are up to 67 videos!) and we do weekly online shows from our home studio. We both take whatever virtual and digital work we can right now, and are so thankful to be able to practice and play music together. 

What is your greatest fear and/or greatest hope for the future based on the pandemic experience?

I am terribly worried about artists and arts organizations all over the world, and especially in our country. Musicians, dancers, actors rely on the gathering of groups for their livelihood. And I truly worry that many of these organizations will not be able to survive this shut down. 

What is the one thing you miss most right now? What is the first thing you are eager to do as soon as you are out and about again? Have you started going out or being social as yet? 

Outside of walking the dog, I have not left my house in over nine weeks. I miss getting on the train and going to visit friends. I miss patronizing my local restaurants and bars. I miss hopping into a shop or wandering through Central Park, and other quintessential NYC activities.

I miss hugging the people I love. And I especially miss traveling — how I would love to just hop on a plane and go to another country for a visit!

Having all of this time at home has been a rare chance to reflect and take stock of our lives, what matters most, etc. We welcome your reflections.

When you think back in your life, was there a mentor or someone that really helped or inspired you? If yes, who was it and how did they help? My parents were a big inspiration to me, and they instilled my drive and work ethic, as well as my passion for the arts.

They also valued empathy and humility, two of the most important traits in a person. My first voice teacher, Dawn Peterson, was a big influence in my life. I met her when I was 13. She has gone from teacher to friend to family, and remains my biggest cheer leader today. 

What is one of the biggest risks you have taken? Why did you take it and how did you get through it?

Moving to NYC at age 18, and basically every choice thereafter!  

Choosing a life of complete surprise and instability, and one that relies on other people’s opinions and criticism is a very daring life to choose. Actors, musicians, dancers, writers go out on a limb every day; it’s a high risk/high reward life. 

What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

I really do think that this career path is a war of attrition.

As I get older, I have started to realize that it’s not one achievement or accomplishment that matters most or shapes us most, but rather the survival. Getting through the rejection and failure, and still wanting to make art is an accomplishment. Not letting this city break you is an accomplishment!  

Finding a corner of the world that you can be authentically yourself, and becoming a better version of yourself every day—these daily, small victories are what matter. 

RELATED: How To Be More Positive, Even When You're Surrounded By Constant Negativity

Lightning round: 

Red or white? Vodka or bourbon?  Beer, water, coffee and/or green tea? 

Red wine and coffee!

Sweatpants, leggings, jeans, shorts or jammies all day?

Sweats all day

Guilty pleasure?

PopCorners

Do you go out during the day and if so, where do you go?

Walk the dogs 

Who do you trust/follow most these days: Cuomo, your state governor, Fauci, Trump, or other (please explain)

Cuomo! Thank goodness for his calm and informative briefings 

TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat? (please include your account handle!)

IG: @morganajames 

Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or … do you avoid showing up on video chats?!

Zoom. Although any zoom with more than six people is off-limits for me now, and I have pretty much overdosed on zoom at this point 

BIO: Morgan James is a Juilliard trained singer, actress, songwriter and recording artist in New York City. Morgan just released her third studio album of original soul music, entitled Memphis Magnetic, recorded to analog tape in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her other albums include "Reckless Abandon", which prompted the Huffington Post to call MJ the "Brightest Breakout Artist of the Year", and two albums with Epic Records. . With viral sensation Postmodern Jukebox and with her own YouTube channel, Morgan’s music videos have accumulated more than 200 million views (and climbing).  

With #LoveActs, YourTango hopes to inspire you to open your heart and minds, motivate your own “love acts” and create a positive cycle of help and healing. 

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Richard Amelius is a theatre director dedicated to telling new stories that reflect the world around around us, as well magnifying minority voices in traditional stories through non-traditional casting and concepts. He directed the female centered concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2017, and co-produced She Is Risen, a concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar featuring an all female cast, all female orchestra, and girls choir.

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