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Reimagined Musicals are the new Black

Highly anticipated Jesus Christ Superstar production uses Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton’s story as lens

Media coverage: CBC Fresh Air, CBC Black In Canada, CTV Barrie, SesaYArts Magazine, Barrie 360 Podcast, Barrie 360, Simcoe.com, Barrie Today

A fresh take on the musical Jesus Christ Superstar begins performances in Barrie on Thursday, November 23, through Saturday, December 2, 2023, at Five Points Theatre (1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie, ON). Reimagined through the lens of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, award winning director and founder of Musicals Reimagined, Saccha Dennis has partnered with Talk Is Free Theatre (TIFT), for this musical production.

“Musical theatre can be a call to action. We have a unique opportunity with this type of show to both entertain and make real impact,” says Saccha Dennis, Director. “If the audience comes away feeling encouraged towards any action that represents even a small ounce of activism—whether it’s to look up Black Lives Matter locally or to feel empowered or to stand up for someone—then I, as an artist, have done my job.”

Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of the days leading up to Jesus’ death from the perspective of Judas. A diverse and representative cast transforms the musical through its parallels with Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton’s story. A leader in his community, his efforts for helping his community and leading by example was seen as a threat to the FBI. With the help of informant William O’Neal, Hampton was shot and killed in a pre-dawn raid in December 1969.

Dennis’s desire and drive in taking a recognized piece of theatre like Jesus Christ Superstar and transforming it, whipping it around, and changing it, fits exactly with what TIFT does as a theatre company,” says Michael Torontow, TIFT’s Artistic Associate. “We are proud to create a platform for this powerful production.”

The goal of this reimagined musical is to both raise awareness about Hampton’s story, and to raise awareness in general about folks and groups that have been targeted, specifically an iconic group like The Black Panther Party.

“Some have viewed The Black Panthers as a kind of militant or radical group, but there is actually a lot more substance to them. I believe audiences will see through this show, the heart of this group, the turmoil of William O’Neal, the courage of Hampton and how we have reimagined them through this biblical story,” added Dennis.

On hearing Dennis’ reimagined version of Gethsemane: Black Jesus  in 2021, Jesus Christ Superstar Lyricist, Tim Rice, commented, “This version of Gethsemane is certainly powerful. When Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and I wrote Gethsemane all those years ago we never imagined that it would be able to inspire a totally different concept of the song half a century later. ….It’s good to feel that the song, which has had so many covers over the decades, can cross so many boundaries in time and distance and still the message gets through.”

Regular tickets cost $39 +HST; tickets for full-time students or artists (ID required upon entry) cost $19.50 +HST and are available through the TIFT website.

TIFT acknowledges annual funding support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Barrie.

Photo: Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar in Protest scene from Saccha Dennis’ TIFT Production; Credit Matthew MacQuarrie-Cottle

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