Bringing Broadway to Bloomington

WTIU was granted access to the set-up of the North American tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" to find out how Broadway comes to Bloomington.

Light and Sound Check for Jesus Christ Superstar

Photo: Joe Hren

Light and sound check during the set-up of "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the IU Auditorium.

From the outside it may just be another building on campus – but throughout the year it’s one of the busiest places to be, especially the morning of a show. Another show is in town and thousands will fill the auditorium seats to see the latest Broadway tour.

But before the lights go up and the music starts, House Stage Manager John DeLong says there’s much to be done.

“It’s exciting in the sense it’s not the same every day, a lot of different people and a lot of different circumstances but yet familiar enough, the process is the same,” says DeLong. “To be able to bring a show in and put 4, 5, 6 trucks of equipment in the building and get together and up in 8 to 12 hour time and do a performance, it’s satisfying.”

Doug Booher is the Executive Director at the IU Auditorium. Doug and his staff work year round to schedule the shows.

“We’re looking at the quality of the show, the dates the show is available, the financials of the show, can we afford to bring it, would tickets be affordable for our audience and finally does it fit within the fabric of our season.”

These are million dollar productions, so both the touring company and the Auditorium go through a lengthy process to book a show.

“They may pay $59 for that orchestra ticket, that $59, most of it is going back to the show and generally speaking, we see about 1 to 4 percent of that,” says Booher.

This production of Jesus Christ Superstar arrives at 9 AM, the morning of the first performance. Most of the Broadway shows carry everything that they need with them. Twelve department staff heads who travel with the show work with 40 to 50 local stage hands to unload and set up.

“The rigging, things that hang from the ceiling and hang on chain hoists from the grid of the theater comes in first because it goes up first, before things can build under it,” says DeLong.

Then the show deck is built, a floor they build on top of the stage floor designed as part of the set. It keeps a consistent surface for the performers from city to city and is used for special effects.

Meanwhile, downstairs the costumes are being prepared. Alison Smith is the wardrobe supervisor.

“I travel with three work boxes which house head pieces, hats, hair accessories and over here I have steamers and irons. Everything is divided, labeled with the cast name, scene and cast number. Each member of the cast has a number assigned to them so they can find it.”

The only rehearsal is a light and sound check when the cast arrives – about 2 hours before curtain, a routine the headliner Ted Neeley, who plays Jesus, says never gets old.

“I’ve been on the road all my life, so I’m an official road dog, it’s just what I do. It’s so invigorating just to get up there and be challenged by these great songs and the great way the pieces are put together and the people on stage are always in competition with each other to make sure they keep that energy up there.”

This is Sarah Hanlon’s first national tour. She plays Mary Magdalene.

“The show I have found is very fulfilling. At the end of the show, I’m like that’s it – that’s what we wanted to do, and that makes up for having to sleep on the bus.”

They each travel with 2 suitcases during their 4 month tour.

“Because we’re traveling all over the place from west coast to east coast and to Canada you have to have winter clothes, summer clothes, in between, so what we found is we grab our one suitcase and leave another on and kinda interchange, you get used to it.”

Hanlon says the tour has blossomed great friendships. “It’s what you need on tour, you need friends, your family, it’s your home.”

But it’s all part of being on tour and on-stage.

“I would love to be able to see the show, to see what it really looks like,” says Neeley. “We know what it feels like, we know what we worked on in rehearsals and that process to make it work on stage and I sincerely hope that which we feel we are doing on stage is translating to the audience. This piece has had a tremendous influence on my life and I’m so lucky to still be a part of it. Can’t wait until tonight to do it again.”

And they will – again and again … and again. The tour started December 26 in Bismarck, North Dakota and ends May 3 in Peterborough, Ontario.

Joe Hren

Anchor, Indiana Newsdesk - WTIU & WFIU News. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_Hren

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