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The Globe and Mail

Stratford's Jesus Christ Superstar heading to California (then Broadway?)

Paul Nolan as Jesus in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of esus Christ Superstar.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival/David Hou

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's popular production of Jesus Christ Superstar is set to have a speedy resurrection this November in California.

The entire Canadian company has been invited down to San Diego for a month-and-a-half long run of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at artistic director Des McAnuff's old stomping grounds, the La Jolla Playhouse, a theatre known as a frequent stepping stone for shows on their way to Broadway.

"I met with the cast a couple of days ago and they were of course thrilled," says McAnuff, who was artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse from 1983 to 1994 and again from 2000 to 2007. "I think Christmas in California is probably a pretty appealing thing when you're in the middle of the snow belt."

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During McAnuff's tenure, the La Jolla Playhouse - located on the campus of the University of California in an affluent, seaside area of San Diego - was the starting point for many Broadway hits, including his own productions of Jersey Boys and The Who's Tommy.

The La Jolla Playhouse had been scheduled to premiere a new musical about J.M. Barrie called Finding Neverland in the late fall, but when that project was postponed it left a perfect slot for Jesus Christ Superstar, set to close in Stratford at the end of October. Current artistic director Christopher Ashley flew up to see the show two weeks ago, after which arrangements for the transfer were quickly solidified.

"It just happened to work in with the schedule at Stratford," McAnuff says. "Usually, I'm used to sending shows away from La Jolla, so this will be a first to send one there."

Indeed, that history raises the question as to whether Jesus Christ Superstar will follow in footsteps of other shows the La Jolla Playhouse has sent to New York such as Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays and last year's Tony-winning musical Memphis.

Since opening in Stratford last month, McAnuff's widely praised production - starring festival favourites Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy as Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as well as Tony Award winner Brent Carver as a deeply conflicted Pontius Pilate - has been generating Broadway-bound buzz even before any of the major U.S. critics have been up to review it.

Composer Webber and lyricist Tim Rice visited and praised the production, leading newspapers such as The New York Times and the New York Post to report on rumours it may be headed to the Great White Way next spring.

While McAnuff says he has been "amused" by the sheer volume of coverage, he cautions that it is not based on any concrete developments. "There seems to be some interest and that's not just focused on New York," he said. "I think it's advantageous to keep the company together in case something else happens, but there's no assurances. This could well be a transfer to La Jolla that doesn't go beyond."

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None of which are statements that will stop the gossip from galloping on. "Could it happen? It would be great - I'd love to see it happen," McAnuff says. "I also know how far those goalposts are from where we are right now."

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