Dan Tilsley's eyes light up as he studies a rehearsal for Jesus Christ Superstar at Terry Fox secondary, where he's been the drama coach at the Port Coquitlam high school for the last seven years.
"This is a full circle for me," he says quietly, watching the actors sing.
As a senior at Seaquam secondary in North Delta, Tilsley was cast in the lead role for the same show and he never forgot the experience - so much so that he's now bringing it to the Terry Fox Theatre stage this month.
"It's kind of a weird flashback to do this," he continued, "but I just couldn't resist. This has always been a favourite of mine."
The musical is Fox's biggest performance to date, involving 56 students in grades 9 to 12. The open casting call drew 130 candidates, Tilsley said, mostly because the 1970s tunes. "The kids really like the retro rock," he said, "and I find the music very infectious, too. It's a really powerful production that tells a really powerful story."
For readers who haven't seen it, Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Its plot centers around the last week of Jesus' life and his struggles with Judas.
While the original 1971 Broadway play didn't include the resurrection, the PG-rated Fox production closes with it - and the signature song Superstar - instead of the crucifixion scene. "We tried to make it as suitable for school audiences as we could," Tilsley said.
Since last October, the cast has been rehearsing about twice a week, first mastering the songs and, in January, perfecting the steps. Both the music and dance components were organized by Tilsley's artistic partner, Darren Burkett (A Chorus Line, Royal City Musical Theatre; White Christmas, Arts Club Theatre).His energy, enthusiasm and time have made the school production what it is today, Tilsley acknowledged. "Without Darren, none of this would have been done," he said, gesturing toward the stage.
But Tilsley also credits his triple-threat leads - Grade 12 students Riley Langford (Jesus), Marina Haug (Mary) and Justin Lepena (Judas) - for their vocal, acting and dancing abilities.
Tilsley admits there was almost zero budget to put on the show (costs will be recouped through ticket sales). Students had to rummage through thrift stores to find costumes, though a professional seamstress was hired to put together some of the more intricate garb.
Still, once Superstar is over, Tilsley won't be resting on his laurels. Next month, his drama students will perform The 25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in a provincial competition at Douglas College in New Westminster. Fox was chosen to represent the school district after winning MetFest - an annual district-wide theatre festival - last December at Port Moody's Heritage Woods secondary.The musical comedy follows a group of overachieving students in a spelling competition.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs April 14 to 16 and 21 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets at $12/$7, visit the school at 1260 Riverwood Gate. Tickets will also be available at the door. For more information, call the school at 604-941-5401.