Theater alumni come together again for 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Most theater troupes and amateur clubs typically spend months rehearsing their dramas and musical productions before opening night.

But David McDowell and his team of performers have just six days.

No pressure, right? 

For the first time in its 43-year run, Stewartstown Summer Theatre will put on an alumni production in April. The show is Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar."

“Alumni have been asking me for years, why can't they come back and do a show, and I scoffed at that idea just because of the idea of the schedule," McDowell said. “But when I was watching the NBC version of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' three Easters ago, I heard God tell me that this is what they were to do."

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All 80 performers in the upcoming production have been members of Stewartstown Summer Theatre, a performing arts organization that's part of Stewartstown United Methodist Church.

Since 1980, the Stewartstown Summer Theatre program has created a summer education experience for almost 4,000 children and teenagers. The regional theater organization provides a stage for youths ages 12 through 19, many of whom perform with the group for several years, according to www.sumctheatre.com/.

The theater program has produced such shows as "Happy Days," "Children of Eden," "The Music Man," "Once Upon a Mattress," "Shrek: The Musical," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." 

Now, alumni are coming from all across the country for this production. The performers have spent months learning the music and practicing the lines from the comfort of their own homes. They won't all meet in person until six days before the first show.

“If that’s not the definition of insanity, I don't know what is," McDowell said. "This project is like a large jigsaw puzzle, and the pieces will be drawn together in the six days we have once the entire group assembles."

Stewartstown Summer Theatre's alumni production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" will have three performances at 7 p.m. April 14 to April 16 at Allegro Winery, 4069 Vineyard Road. Tickets are $25-30 and are available at https://jesuschristsuperstar2022.com/.

The cast will also lead a worship service at 10:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, April 17.

Stewartstown Summer Theatre's alumni production has been in the works for several years. 

Doug Eppler (Jesus Christ), of York City, works on musical numbers for Stewartstown Summer Theatre Alumni's upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Producer David McDowell at Stewartstown United Methodist Church in Stewartstown, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. The 7 p.m. shows run April 14-16 at Allegro Winery. Dawn J. Sagert photo

All cast members have been given their music and are responsible for learning vocals before they arrive in April. 

Several lead vocalists, including Doug Eppler, portraying Jesus Christ, have been able to come in person to rehearse.

Other cast members, like the stage choir, have been learning their voice parts online. Group rehearsals were to begin at the end of March, McDowell said. 

The 40-piece orchestra, meanwhile, is under the direction of Scott Kaliszak, the director of strings at Dallastown Area High School. Orchestra members are working on the music individually and will assemble for the first time on April 10, McDowell added.

“I told everybody involved this will be one of the most intensive things you have ever done in your life," McDowell said. "And it will also be one of the most memorable things you’ve ever done."

G.J. Emge, a production manager for "Jesus Christ Superstar," said he's very much looking forward to being part of the large-scale production.

“This is something unlike anything that has ever happened in southern York County," Emge said. "We are doing what many others would think is impossible to do on the backside of the pandemic."

Doug Eppler (Jesus Christ), left, of York City, and Robin Almony Powers (Mary Magdalene), of Shrewsbury Township, work on their musical numbers for Stewartstown Summer Theatre Alumni's upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. The 7 p.m. shows run April 14-16 at Allegro Winery. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Emge, the owner of Faithful Production Services, has been involved with Stewartstown Summer Theatre for 25 years.

Primarily, Emge's responsibilities include negotiating contracts, scheduling, engineering and coordinating technical teams.

For this production, Emge is donating his services free of charge.

“This church has been a family to me at times where there were very challenging things going on in my life," Emge said. "So, it is a joy to give back and support this project in this way."

Producer David McDowell, right, works with Robin Almony Powers (Mary Magdalene), of Shrewsbury Township, on musical numbers for Stewartstown Summer Theatre Alumni's upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Stewartstown United Methodist Church in Stewartstown, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. The 7 p.m. shows run April 14-16 at Allegro Winery. Dawn J. Sagert photo

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.