SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Glass of Wine With Superstar Director Des McAnuff

By Robert Simonson
12 Mar 2012

Des McAnuff
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
According to McAnuff, both lyricist Rice and composer Lloyd Webber did their part to influence his approach to the current revival.

"I was watching daytime television — and I like to think I was at the gym or sick, or terribly depressed, because I don't watch daytime television," he recalled. "I was channel-surfing and came across Tim Rice doing an interview. He was talking about Superstar and he described the story as a love triangle. I thought I knew the story well. But somehow when he said that, I saw the story in a different way and very vividly."

Lloyd Webber's suggestion, naturally, had to do with the music. "I was so used to the idea that when you stage a work, it's the orchestrator's job to take the songs and vocals and expand them into new orchestrations," said McAnuff. "I would have had a hard time getting my head around the idea of going back to another [existing] orchestration. But now I've done opera, where they do things somewhat different. I've found it liberating to go back to the original recording and use that as The Bible for the show." And, so, when it came time to do JCS, he chose to use the original orchestrations, which are familiar to generations of fans who own the original Superstar recording, which was released before there ever was a staged production. "It presses buttons in people when they hear that music."

Paul Nolan in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Superstar is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, directly across from the August Wilson Theatre, where the McAnuff-directed Jersey Boys has been running since 2005. McAnuff has had his share of hits in his long career, but he will freely admit that nothing approaches that international smash, the popularity of which never seems to flag.

"I had the privilege of enjoying some success as a director, starting when I was relatively young, with Big River, which ran for a long time and had a national tour," he said. "And other shows like Tommy. I got to do 700 Sundays with Billy Crystal, which, for a solo show, was pretty much unprecedented in terms of the success. But nothing compares to Jersey Boys. I knew it was very good and people were loving it. But no one could have anticipated it. It's allowed me to do something, which is go back to my homeland and run this large repertory company [Stratford]. I'm not sure I would have done that without Jersey Boys. It gave me the freedom to do something I really love. I owe that not to just William Shakespeare, but the Four Seasons."

And Canada is appreciative. McAnuff was recently awarded the National Arts Centre Award as part of Canada's Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. He was honored for "work of an extraordinary nature and significance in the performing arts by an individual artist and/or company in the past performance year," according to NAC.