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When the Argenta Community Theater opened, part of its mission was to create an annual summer musical program. The shows would be produced in-house with volunteer casts — the essence of community theater. That promise was fulfilled with last year's production of "Cabaret," and judging from the sold-out performances it was an endeavor that the community would support.
ACT co-founder Vincent Insalaco produced "Cabaret," and Bob Hupp, producing artistic director at Arkansas Repertory Theatre, directed the show. This year, Insalaco will helm ACT's summer musical, and it's a show that has a deep personal resonance for him: "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Insalaco's late wife, Sally Riggs Insalaco, was an actor and dancer who worked as a cast member and as ballet mistress on the first U.K. productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera at The Palace Theater in London. Riggs was also in the touring choir for the show, performing for royalty, including Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of the Netherlands, Insalaco said.
"Clearly, I wanted to do one last homage, if you will, to Sally," he said. "I wanted to do one more, I'm not going to deny that at all. She was very proud of this show and her association with it." Riggs starred in several touring Broadway shows, including "Hello Dolly," but she was probably most proud of her work on "Jesus Christ Superstar," Insalaco said.
One difference between this year's show and last year's is cast size. "Cabaret" has a relatively small cast while "Jesus Christ Superstar" has 35 cast members and a 10-person orchestra, which ought to make for an intimate stage-audience arrangement. "The set is magnificent," Insalaco said. "We took the curtains down and built a set that's three levels."
In addition to the larger cast size, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is also a work that is entirely sung, which is quite a bit more demanding on the actors than a musical that hops between songs and spoken dialogue, he said.
"It's 10 times harder on the cast," Insalaco said. "It's very, very demanding for the principals, it's a really difficult show. And also, last year Bob Hupp directed 'Cabaret.' I produced it, but he directed it and he's a master, and I am by no means at his level." He said Hupp has been invaluable as a source to call upon for guidance.
As of press deadline, the six-performance run for "Jesus Christ Superstar" was nearly sold out, but Insalaco said adding more performances at this point was unlikely.
"Last year we could've easily sold two more shows," he said. But because of the nature of the show and the fact that, aside from the orchestra players, everyone is a volunteer, adding more performances would be a tall order. "People put their whole entire summer on hold until this is over, so to extend it might be tough," he said, adding that there will likely be cast members who are leaving for their summer vacations the day after the show ends.
All of that is to say that if you're interested in seeing "Jesus Christ Superstar" this summer, you'd probably best secure your tickets now. Otherwise you'll have to wait until next summer to catch ACT's 2014 summer musical, the beloved "Fiddler on the Roof."
Argenta Community Theater's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" runs July 24-28. The July 24 show is at 7 p.m. and is part of the ACT's annual fundraiser. Tickets are $125 and include food and drinks. The show starts at 7 p.m. July 25, 8 p.m. July 26, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. July 27 and 6 p.m. July 28. Tickets for those shows range from $30-$40.