Jesus Christ Superstar 50th Anniversary Tour Comes to Denver | Westword

Jesus Christ Superstar Fiftieth-Anniversary Tour Comes to Denver

This exciting rock opera features a local performer and reimagines the last days of Jesus Christ through a kaleidoscope of rock, funk and soul.
"Jesus Christ Superstar is high-octane, melt-your-face-off rock," says Joshua Bess.
"Jesus Christ Superstar is high-octane, melt-your-face-off rock," says Joshua Bess. Courtesy of Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
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When Joshua Bess belts out tunes in Jesus Christ Superstar at Denver's Buell Theatre, it isn't just a performance — it’s a homecoming gig for a Colorado native who has Broadway in his heart and rock opera in his soul.

"The music is what makes the show so timeless," Bess says. "Especially to me, when I hear the 'boom, boom' and the big chords that start and end the show, they scream Jesus Christ Superstar. I could definitely see myself showing my great-grandkids this show."

Born and raised in Littleton, Bess's journey to the stage is one of tenacity and talent. His recent performance at the New Year's Eve Broncos game was just a taste of his vocal prowess; he was also a member of the national tours of RENT and SpongeBob the Broadway Musical. Reflecting on his return to Denver, he remarks, "It feels incredible to come back. The last time I performed in the Buell was SpongeBob, which was shut down due to COVID-19. It’s been a dream of mine to join a tour that would bring me back to Denver. As soon as I found out Jesus Christ Superstar was coming to Denver, I knew I needed to be a part of the tour."

Superstar, which took home the 1971 Billboard Album of the Year award, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with this tour (the original planned celebration was interrupted by the pandemic). In the thrilling rock opera, Jesus Christ's last days are reimagined through a kaleidoscope of rock, funk and soul, giving ancient Jerusalem a hip makeover. Under the spotlight, faith and betrayal collide, and Judas's internal conflict leads to a heartbreakingly intense and dramatic conclusion.
click to enlarge actors on stage
Joshua Bess’s journey from Littleton to the big stage is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance in the arts.
Courtesy of Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
The current version of the musical is based on the 2016 production at London's Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, which was staged to commemorate the musical's 45th anniversary. It offers a fresh and exciting rendition of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's score geared toward contemporary audiences. "This musical holds up in a way not every Broadway show does," Bess shares, "and I really do think it's the music. My favorite song in the show, which is the greatest song in musical theater history, is 'Heaven on Their Minds.' Besides the overture, it’s the first song of the show. Just the guitar riffs going into it and the lyrics — the way it starts is unmatched."

As an ensemble member and the on-stage standby for Jesus and Pilate, Bess's role is both challenging and exhilarating. "All the roles I play are very different," he admits. "I always tell people that playing Jesus is difficult because he has so much history. When people come to the show, they have seen thousands of different versions of Jesus. It is easy to let that affect you and develop imposter syndrome, but the best thing about the production is that I believe the original director and choreography added our own flavor to it. ... Pilate has far less stage time, which you would think would make it easier, but the waiting around adds to the fear."

Bess attributes his Colorado upbringing, particularly the altitude, with giving him a distinct advantage in theater. Because he was raised in Littleton (elevation 5,351 feet), he had to develop a high level of stamina to perform. "Being from Colorado in the high altitude really trained me," Bess says. "I found it much easier to sing and dance in New York. When I return to Denver, I can feel the altitude, but I know how to work around it. Some people aren’t used to the altitude or how you move; singing and dancing just feel different in Denver, but I have experience with it.

"I am the most grounded on this tour," he continues. "RENT was my first tour, and I was also in a principal role for the duration of that time; that showed me what I can and can’t do. I made a lot of mistakes that a person normally makes during their first tour. Going into SpongeBob showed me that I could push my limits more, and I brought both of those experiences to the Jesus Christ Superstar tour. ... This is a rock opera with a different form than RENT. While RENT is more musical-theater rock, Jesus Christ Superstar is high-octane, melt-your-face-off rock, which can be daunting at times, but because of this show, my vocal stamina has really improved."
click to enlarge man singing into microphone on stage
The musical is at the Buell Theatre from January 23 to 28.
Courtesy of Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
Looking ahead, Bess dreams of exploring new roles and productions once his contract is up and the tour closes in May. "Until then, I will be up on that stage, jumping around and screaming," he says. "I would love to do another tour. While I am young, I may as well see the world. I would love to do Moulin Rouge, because I love the music and the movie. I'd also love to be in Hadestown; the music and choreography are incredible."

Bess’s journey from Littleton to the big stage is not just inspiring; it’s a testament to the power of passion and perseverance in the arts. For Bess, who has journeyed from Colorado’s local stages to the national spotlight, the show is a personal milestone. And for Denver audiences, it's a unique opportunity to witness a local talent perform in a musical that has captivated generations for decades.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs Tuesday, January 23, through Sunday, January 28, at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Get tickets at
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