Local actor/singer Brian Palac and popular prophet Jesus Christ have a few things in common. No not the miracles part and no, not the part where God’s his dad. Their connection has more to do with food.
It was nothing Palac noticed right away. While Jesus famously fed thousands loaves and fishes (aside from the resurrection, this is the only miracle consistent in all four gospels of the bible), Palac did something similar as he often does when he is in a show.
“I was able to find things in rehearsal that helped me relate to Jesus,” said Palac. “He was a very giving person, and something I like to do is bring snacks to rehearsal when I’m in any show. When I brought snacks to the cast, someone brought it up to me, that what I did was kind of like Jesus.”
These little connections might have gone unnoticed while in rehearsal for other shows, but the show Palac is currently working on was the perfect place for generosity in the spirit of Jesus, intended or not.
Palac is taking on the title role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Stage 1 in Newark, which opens Saturday, April 11th. The show, which started as a concept album in 1970, and moved onto Broadway a year later, follows the final week of Jesus’ life according to the four gospels, from his entrance into the city of Jerusalem to his crucifixion and passing. The story is narrated by Jesus’ betrayer Judas, and features many people who influenced Jesus’ life and death.
It’s a meaty role for Palac, who only got into theatre on a whim. Palac never prepared for a life singing in the theatre, and his only formal training was in a children’s choir in his youth. He also never took any classes in college while pursuing a degree in electronics engineering.
Six years ago, when Palac was 29-years-old, he was asked to audition for the musical “Ragtime” by a director who had randomly heard him sing. After getting cast in that musical, he found other roles in which he was suited for at other South Bay companies, roles such as Freddy in “My Fair Lady” and Roger in “Rent.”
When friends mentioned to him to audition for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” he went in and was shooting for the coveted role of Judas. But after a very successful audition for Jesus, which left a few of the Stage 1 staff in tears, Palac took the role and rode with it.
While Palac, who grew up Catholic yet does not consider himself terribly religious, was preparing to play Jesus, he was able to find a portrayal which worked for him. He found a Jesus that functions beautifully as a common man among the people, not necessarily a deity who talks to animals and makes constant miracles happen.
“I was able to realize that Jesus is human as any of us are,” said Palac. “Just like any of us, Jesus has that burden on him to do whatever God asked of him. We see those struggles in his emotions.”
While Palac certainly has made discoveries of who Jesus was to inform his ultimate portrayal, he has also made many strides to adjust to the style of the show.
“The biggest challenge is that all the dialogue is sung through, and you have to hit so many high notes,” said Palac. “I never thought I could reach the notes I’ve had to sing in this show. The challenge for me is consistently doing it without losing my voice.”
Palac uses his voice as the primary vehicle for taking on any role.
“I tell people I’m not an actor, I’m a singer first and then an actor,” said Palac. “I believe in singing the song and emoting through the song, and I really studied the lyrics and made decisions on how I wanted to convey the song.”
There needs to be a truth and honor into how the songs of Jesus are portrayed, even in his darkest and most desperate hours. Palac found that, which allowed him to access the heart of Jesus and to connect deeply into the role.
“Jesus is in a scene with Pontius Pilate and there’s a line in the song by Pilate when he mentions that Jesus is so calm even though he’s being judged and getting abused,” said Palac. “He had this trait where he doesn’t let opinions of others affect his well-being. Hanging out with Mary Magdalene even, he didn’t care what others thought, and I like that about him.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Stage 1 Theatre presents “Jesus Christ Superstar”
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Matty Gregg
Musical Direction by Greg Zema
Choreography by Todd Aragon
Vocal direction by Monique Mallicoat
April 11th – 26th
Newark Memorial High School Theatre
39375 Cedar Boulevard, Newark CA
Tickets range from $12 – $24
For tickets, visit Stage 1’s official website