Cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” Angry After Arena Tour Is Abruptly Canceled

Brandon Boyd, left, and Ben Forster rehearsing in New Orleans on Thursday. (Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times)
Brandon Boyd, left, and Ben Forster rehearsing in New Orleans on Thursday. (Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times)

Ben Forster, a 33-year-old British actor, was preparing for the biggest break of his career as he rehearsed the title role for an ambitious arena tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that was to have its first performance here at the Lakefront Arena on June 9.

That was Thursday. On Friday, Mr. Forster, an ensemble of celebrity performers and a cast and crew of about 300 learned that they were all out of work. The tour, which was to play more than 50 cities in North America over the summer, was canceled without warning or explanation.

“For me, it was the American dream about to happen,” Mr. Forster said in an interview on Friday night. “What’s that Miley Cyrus song, ‘Wrecking Ball’? I feel like someone just came in and took a big wrecking ball to the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ tour.”

This tour’s high-profile promoter, Michael Cohl, who has mainly worked with rock groups like U2 and the Rolling Stones and was a lead producer of the problem-plagued Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” said on Saturday that ticket sales did not support the tour, even though backers spent “millions of dollars” and enlisted “an army of people to promote the tour.”

“It became obvious the shows were in trouble, but we tried until the last moment to give it every chance to turn around,” Mr. Cohl said in an email. “In the end, it just did not make business sense to continue, and we didn’t want the cast to endure playing to disappointing audiences.”

This latest production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera about the final days of Jesus was announced with fanfare in April, including a news conference in New York and a performance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The cast featured an eclectic mix of rock and pop performers in the principal roles, including the Incubus lead singer, Brandon Boyd, as Judas Iscariot; Michelle Williams, of the R&B group Destiny’s Child, as Mary Magdalene; JC Chasez of *NSYNC as Pontius Pilate; and John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, as King Herod.

The aggressive itinerary included stops at 18,000- to 20,000-seat theaters like Madison Square Garden in New York and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with top ticket prices of about $125.

In April, Mr. Cohl said that total costs were in the range of “eight figures” and that the tour would need to take in “several hundred thousand dollars” each night to keep it afloat.

As recently as Thursday, cast members like Mr. Boyd and Mr. Forster were working in New Orleans with the director Laurence Connor (a director of the current Broadway revival of “Les Misérables”); Mr. Lydon was being fitted for his King Herod costume and making his first attempts at rehearsing his character’s sarcastic ragtime number.

The next morning, Mr. Forster and Mr. Chasez were rehearsing with Mr. Connor when the show’s general manager entered the studio. Describing what happened next, Mr. Forster said, “He was like: ‘Guys, take a break. We need to chat. It’s not going to happen.’ ” At this point, in his recollection, Mr. Forster simply gasped.

Mr. Boyd, who has no previous musical-theater experience, said he suspected he was being hazed. “I thought it was like a prank that you pull on the new guy,” he said. “But no.”

In London, some 70 members of the British ensemble cast who were preparing to travel to the New Orleans rehearsal also received the bad news. Several posted a defiant photograph of themselves on social media, extending their middle fingers to the camera. (As a show of solidarity, their celebrity cast mates in America posted a picture of themselves making the same gesture.)

The collapse of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is another black eye for Mr. Cohl and his production company, S2BN Entertainment, which was presenting the tour with the Really Useful Group, Mr. Lloyd Webber’s company.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Dave Itzkoff

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