Rising through tradition

E.J. Simpson presents Jesus Christ Superstar

3 minute read
Simpson in sparkling sequin vest and a wizard-like hat holds a guitar above his torso, stands in front of a mic on stage

There have been a number of renditions of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar on stage. Imagine one person doing the whole show alone where he/she portrays all the characters such as Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Peter, Judas Iscariot, and of course Jesus.

You won’t have to imagine it if you see EJ Simpson’s one-man performance of Jesus Christ Superstar on Friday, April 5 at 8pm at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Episcopal Church. This will be Simpson’s 18th straight year soloing Jesus Christ Superstar in Philadelphia. A Philly native, Simpson has soloed this rock opera in other parts of the US, as far out as California, Oregon, and Alaska.

What shall rise

Simpson decided to do Jesus Christ Superstar because he and his siblings and parents loved the album. “We listened to it all the time,” said Simpson. I must have heard it over a hundred times.” He conceived the idea of doing it as a one-man show 18 years ago because at the time he was going through a lot of personal transitions and needed to undertake a project like that. Listening to the album made him happy.

Launching his first performance was not too difficult. He performed it at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk. At the time, he was already playing music there, and the management liked Simpson’s sound. They agreed to let him perform it on a Sunday afternoon when their pub was less busy. Simpson’s debut performance packed Dawson Street Pub that afternoon. He then played there for a number of years.

One day after playing music at Gloria Dei, he asked the staff if he could do his one-man Superstar performance and they enthusiastically agreed.

Performing this production became a tradition. He usually performs Jesus Christ Superstar around Easter. “The show is Easter themed,” said Simpson. “People asked me, ‘are you going to do it again this year?’ Sometimes people told me that they wanted to see it because they missed it last year.”

Performing this show connects Simpson with his parents who are both deceased. They came to many of his shows when he played with bands and to his Jesus Christ performances. It also reminds him of the good times that he and his entire family had listening to the album together.

Each year, Simpson tries to make his performance of Jesus Christ different. Some years, he would use certain guitars and basses and move around to different locations of the stage. This year is the first time that he will be using a director: Mariangela Saavedra. Under her direction, he now had to perform a dress rehearsal from start to finish. “I never did that before this year,” said Simpson. Now he can only use certain parts of the stage and the aisles. Before he could wander anywhere he wanted; he said that her restrictions and guidance will make the show much better.

Asked once again how he managed to portray a number of characters, he answered: “Instead of telling you, see the show.”

What, When, Where

Jesus Christ Superstar. By Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, directed by Mariangela Saavedra. $20. Friday, April 5, 2024 at 7pm at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Episcopal Church, 916 S. Swanson Street, Philadelphia. (215) 389-1513 or old-swedes.org.

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