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Aaron LaVigne won’t ever forget March 12, 2020.
The performer was in Cleveland, playing Jesus in the national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” when word arrived that all Broadway performances had been canceled for a month.
“Once they started shutting down Broadway, I was like, ‘We’re finished. We’re going to be out of work for a really long time,’ ” he said. “Broadway never closes.”
The Cleveland run was shuttered, and the tour’s layoff stretched from weeks into months. Now, more than a year and a half later, LaVigne is returning to perform for live audiences again as Jesus in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is on stage Oct. 5-10 at the Paramount Theatre, the second stop on the revived tour after a run in Portland, and marking the return of the Broadway at the Paramount series.
“There’s a lot of feelings, a lot of mixed emotions,” LaVigne said. “The more practical side of me is really excited to just be getting to do this again. There’s been a lot of people that have worked really hard to make sure it’s safe for the cast and for the audience members, with testing protocols.”
Seattle Theatre Group, which operates the Paramount, Moore and Neptune theaters, requires proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus PCR test taken within 48 hours of the performance start time to attend any event. Masks are also required to be worn at all times. Seating at the Paramount is at full capacity for “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
The tour is presenting a staging of the 2016 revival production that premiered at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, directed by the company’s artistic director, Timothy Sheader. Sheader is still directing the show, and as he took a break from rehearsal in Portland, he, too, noted the experience’s mixed emotions.
“It’s incredibly heightened and very sensitive,” he said. “Everyone’s very excited, but everyone’s also very scared. On the first day, I said to everyone, ‘Make no assumptions about what the person standing next to you has just been through for the last two years.’
“Everything is colored by the fact that a lot of our lives are dependent on expressing ourselves as artists and being able to perform and being able to tell stories. Not having been able to do that for 18 months has been incredibly frustrating. So there’s a real wonderful energy to come back together — I mean, the essence of theater is the opposite of what we’ve been through.”
Five years on, Sheader says he’s still not tired of directing “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and his interest lies in keeping the show as malleable as possible, an approach somewhat at odds with typically rigid touring productions of big musicals.
“While a big commercial tour like this can’t change significantly on a day-by-day basis, there is room for flexibility,” he said. “Sometimes people get a bit annoyed with me and are like, ‘Oh, but that’s not what we did last time,’ which I’ve heard quite a lot of. My answer, very quickly, is: ‘Last time was a very long time ago in a very different world.’
“When you’ve got some hours of rehearsal and some space to just refine or rethink or slightly change the lens or the perspective, I think you have a duty to do that. That’s why I’m still here. Otherwise, there’s no reason for me to be here.”
LaVigne, a fan of the show since he played Judas in a high school production, returned to rehearsals for “Jesus Christ Superstar” several weeks back. But the full weight of the show’s rebirth didn’t hit him until the first full-company sing-through.
“I was a mess,” he said. “Just to hear all the voices together, to be in the same room together. We’re all putting out this effort to make this show happen again. I went outside on my break, and I just ugly cried for five minutes.”
Even an Andrew Lloyd Webber hater might feel similarly when the curtain rises at the Paramount, and full-fledged live musical theater is on stage in Seattle again.
“Without an audience, financially and emotionally, this art form is moribund,” Sheader said. “I personally am incredibly grateful to those pioneer audiences that are coming back.”