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Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Lydon and more talk 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

Tim Rice, JC Chasez, John Lydon, Ben Forster, Michelle Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Brandon Boyd at the "Jesus Christ Superstar" press conference in New York City on April 4, 2014
Tim Rice, JC Chasez, John Lydon, Ben Forster, Michelle Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Brandon Boyd at the "Jesus Christ Superstar" press conference in New York City on April 4, 2014Carla Hay

On April 4, 2014, a press conference was held in New York City to announce a North American arena tour for “Jesus Christ Superstar.”Jesus Christ Superstar,” the global phenomenon that has wowed audiences for over 40 years, is reimagined for the 21st century as an arena rock spectacular. The biggest ever North American arena tour of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking rock musical will hit the road in 2014 with a tour that goes to more than 50 cities and kicks off in New Orleans at the Lakefront Arena on June 9 before culminating in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Arena on Aug. 17.

The stars of this North American "Jesus Christ Superstar" tour (which is being promoted by Michael Cohl) are as follows: Brandon Boyd, lead vocalist of rock band Incubus, is confirmed for the role of Judas Iscariot; former *NSYNC member JC Chasez will play Pontius Pilate; Grammy winner/former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams will take the female lead as Mary Magdalene; John Lydon (former lead singer of the band the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.) will play King Herod; and British actor/singer Ben Forster (who won England’s ITV "Superstar" competition in 2012, and played the lead role in the U.K. and Australian arena tours of "Jesus Christ Superstar") will revive his role as Jesus.

Tickets for the first 22 shows will go on sale beginning April 11, 2014, at the official Jesus Christ Superstar website. American Express Card Members could purchase tickets before the general public beginning April 4, 2014. All subsequent market on-sale dates will be announced locally in the weeks to come. The "Jesus Christ Superstar" press conference (which was attended by Webber, Rice, Cohl and the stars of the North American tour) included performances of select songs from the musical with a live band. Boyd and Williams sang "Jesus Christ Superstar"; Williams performed "I Don’t Know How to Love Him," and Forster sung "Gethsemane." Lydon tried to bring a subversive spirit to the press conference by throwing bananas into the audience, telling Cohl to "shut up," and then trying to start his own solo Q&A on stage before being cut off by the live band. Here is what was said at the press conference:

Lydon: Hello, press bunnies!

Forster: I'd like to start off by saying that this story started for me two years ago when I applied for a TV show. I could never of dreamed that I'd be doing a tour in the States. To me, this is my American Dream about to come true. So thank you very much, Andrew and Tim, for inviting me on the tour.

Lydon: Is this New York? Is this still quite possibly New York, even though I arrived in New Jersey? Anyone got any serious questions? Because you know that me taking on a role like this ....

Cohl: We're going to do questions in a little bit.

Lydon: Shut up! Shut up, Mr. Money! I'd like to say ... I'm known for other music, but I'm doing this because I believe in this, and I believe we can make this work in a much more different way. Hello, punk!

Williams: [She says to Lydon] Good to meet you, sir.

Lydon: I know!

[Afterwards, the stars of the show left the stage. Webber, Rice and Cohl then returned to do a brief Q&A with the assembled journalists.]

What will be some of the technical improvements in this touring production "Jesus Christ Superstar"?

Webber: Well, obviously, we have [hands-free] microphones. And with all the video technology, we have about four video cameras working at any given time, so everyone can see what's on stage and feel like they're part of the actual physical production. There are so many aspects that you have to go see it to understand it. The whole thing would have been almost impossible to have done even six or seven years ago.

Cohl: What used to be done in arenas and theaters can now be done in stadiums now. There's a quality [now] that just didn't exist.

What led you to cast the stars who are in this touring production "Jesus Christ Superstar"?

Webber: It was very much a conversation between myself, Tim and our director Laurence Connor. You're obviously familiar with everybody. I saw Brandon [Boyd] at a concert in New York, and I thought he'd be excellent in the role. We cast this in the same way you would cast any good theater production.

Rice: I saw Michelle [Williams] when she starred in "Aida" on Broadway. That was the first time I'd seen her perform close-up. I never saw Destiny's Child in action, I'm afraid. I was incredibly impressed by her as an actress and a singer. So I was particularly pleased that she was able to [be in this touring production "Jesus Christ Superstar"].

Do you think it was a bold move to cast John Lydon in this stage musical?

Cohl: I think based on today's press conference, "yes" would be the answer. But he is a proven performer of decades of success. And people love him, so it's different. But I think he was just filling another slot. If you look at pop culture singers, we've got four or five different slots, and he fit well.

There are several biblical-themed movies, such as "Noah," that are being released this year. Do you think that means audiences are more receptive to biblical-themed entertainment?

Rice: I'm not sure I agree with that, in the sense that I think that people have been writing about Jesus and Bible stories for hundreds of years. I think it's a story that affects everybody in Western culture, whether they believe in it or not. I think if you tell [the story of Jesus] in an original way, which we did back in 1971, people will react to it. That's true 43 years on, as it was for us back in 1971.

Many of the people in this audience weren't even alive when ["Jesus Christ Superstar"] first appeared. In a sense, this ["Jesus Christ Superstar" arena tour] is a fresh take on the story. It's a great story that's a great part of our culture worldwide, so it's always relevant, I think.

How do you feel when you see "Jesus Christ Superstar" today?

Webber: One of the things I decided very early on was that it was to be as I originally wrote the music. I think, for me, the first time I saw it again at the O2 Arena in London was extraordinary. There were a lot of people with their kids. The same thing happened in Australia. I think we'd be delighted if it happened here. I think the production is so strong that it will.

Rice: I think when something has been around for 43 years and still being performed, it's "made it." Even if you really have a bad production of "Superstar," the piece is strong enough to survive that. We try to make it as good as possible.

We can't really stop or indeed really want to stop somebody from doing it in a completely wacky way if they're sincere about doing it. If they got it wrong or it didn't work, well, in, a way, that's their problem. We're grateful to almost every production.

Many of the stars of this touring production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" have never starred in a stage musical of this size. What were some of the biggest challenges in dealing with their lack of experience in this kind of show?

Webber: Those challenges haven't happened yet. We'll start [the tour] and deal with it when those things come up.

What are the promotional and production costs of this touring production "Jesus Christ Superstar"?

Cohl: We won't divulge numbers, but it's eight figures to get it started, and it's several hundred thousand dollars a week to keep it on the road. We're playing to 10,000 people a night, so hopefully, we'll be OK.

Do you think this touring production "Jesus Christ Superstar" will be competing with large-scale rock and pop concert tours?

Cohl: This is a hard one to answer. I've never thought that one show competes with the other. I think people find a way to go see those things that are near and dear. After 40 years, this ["Jesus Christ Superstar"] has proven itself to be near and dear. I think what we're competing with is people's imagination of what the show is going to be. I think we'll be just fine.

[The stars of the show then came back on stage to pose for a group photo. After the photo shoot, loose cannon Lydon tried to do his own impromptu Q&A session, but the band start playing music and drowned out what he was saying. Lydon took the hint and sauntered off stage with a playful wave to the audience.]

For more info: "Jesus Christ Superstar" website

May 31, 2014 update: The North American "Jesus Christ Superstar" tour has been cancelled due to low ticket sales. Click here for more details.