EUSOG puts on gender neutral production of the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

The producer has highlighted the gender-neutral casting as ‘one of the most prominent features of the production’

Over the past five months, over 80 students from various Edinburgh universities have collaborated to create a gender-blind cast production of Jesus Christ Superstar with the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG). As one of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s most famous musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar has been performed by actors worldwide since its 1971 Broadway debut.

However, what makes EUSOG’s version completely original is that their production is fully licensed as gender-neutral, allowing all performers to portray any character despite the typical classifications of “male roles” and “female roles”. The production team made the arrangement with Lloyd Webber Licensing, making the show officially gender-neutral in terms of casting. The producer Lew Forman told us they “really pushed” for this arrangement because “it’s not that I don’t think we could have found men to play these fantastic roles, I’m confident that we could have done. It was more about the idea of equal opportunity”.

For those of you who somehow avoided the viral Twitter mania surrounding John Legend’s portrayal of Jesus in the 2018 “Live in Concert” version of Jesus Christ Superstar, which also starred Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper, and are unaware of the show: the plot of the show revolves around the universally-known series of events of Jesus’ last weeks, told through the eyes of Judas:

“In the fallout of civil unrest, the masses turn to Jesus Christ for guidance, comfort, and healing. With the government hot on their heels, and the threat of prosecution for Jesus and his followers looming, Jesus’s most trusted friend, Judas Iscariot, decides to take matters into his own hands in this timeless tale of love, betrayal, and tragedy; retold for the modern audience”(EUSOG).

The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar originally featured 12 male apostles, including lead roles Judas, Peter, and Simon. However, the 12 apostles in the EUSOG production are portrayed by female or non-binary actors, which creates a unique ensemble to support Jesus throughout his tumultuous demise. Co-Musical Director Emily Paterson said, “having a completely non-male cast of apostles, I have found to be very moving, allowing this iconic story to be told in a new and refreshing way”.

Lew Forman, the producer, says “the gender-neutral casting is one of the most prominent features of the production – we have a female Judas and a non-binary Jesus as our two leads. We are taking non-binary and female creatives out of the shadows and into the spotlight, providing equal opportunities in every aspect of the production”.

Izzy Ponsford, the director, described her main focus when developing a vision for the production as “to fulfil the spectacle demanded by this epic show while retaining the delicate emotional core of the show and making the production feel as relevant to our audience as it did to audiences 50 years ago. Through precise use of set, costume, and lighting, I believe we have achieved a careful modernisation of this piece, forefronting the emotions of the story while still enjoying the show to its absolute fullest”.

Roza Stevenson, who is taking on the title role of Jesus in the EUSOG production, says “by casting the whole show gender blind, it really helps us focus on the core aspects of the characters and, with the help of the fabulous production team, bring them to life. This decision was the reason I applied to audition! Being a non-binary actor is a strange line to walk. Being able to audition for a show where my gender presentation didn’t make a difference broke down any barriers”.

The production will take place from the 24th to the 28th of January at the Church Hill Theatre in the Morningside area. Get your tickets here (and don’t forget your student discount).

Promotion photography by Andrew Perry. Rehearsal photography by Jacob Howorth. Both photographers have given their consent for their photos to be used in this article. 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Edinburgh University staff to strike for 18 days between February and March

• Over a fifth of Edinburgh students say they are addicted to Elf Bars

• ‘To commit no flatcest’: The 19 most relatable New Year’s resolutions from Edi students