The promise of the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular was almost as huge as the story itself.
It would be a flashy framing of one of mankind's most well-known narratives, packed with a roster of incongruous pop stars: JC Chasez from NSync; Michelle Williams from Destiny's Child; Brandon Boyd from Incubus; and John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.
The promotions were slick, with press conferences, YouTube videos, glossy head shots. The stars were busy doing interviews, and rehearsals were in deep. But Friday, the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular fell spectacularly to pieces.
Producers sent out a statement announcing the cancelation of the North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's iconic rock opera, with no reason. The statement said all tickets would be refunded. All pictures and videos of the cast were stripped from the website.
The tour was set to open in New Orleans on June 9, with stops at venues like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center. It was slotted for the Tampa Bay Times Forum on June 15.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that ticket sales were not supporting the cost of the show. That was according to an e-mail from the tour's promoter, Michael Cohl, who has worked with U2 and the Rolling Stones and was a producer of infamous Broadway debacle Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Tampa Bay Times Forum officials declined to say how many tickets had been sold for the Tampa show, and said the producers had no more comments.
The cast seemed blinded by the news. Ben Forster, a British actor cast as Jesus, tweeted: My heart is broken. My beautiful talented cast and company I adore. This wonderful show & opportunity is over. I'm so sorry I am devastated. And Boyd, cast as Judas Iscariot, tweeted: I got fired from #JesusChristSuperstar today....but so did the rest of the cast so we're all sad together. Yeah, it's true. Tour cancelled
I interviewed Chasez the day before he lost his job. He was in New Orleans for rehearsals and offered no signs of trouble. He seemed focused on his role of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, and delighted in dissecting Pilate's moral fabric.
"We've been going through each scene almost line by line and talking about, what is the motivation here?" he said. "We've moved the setting into a modern time. We try to ask ourselves, if Pontius were around today, if we were dealing with a scenario like this today, what kind of authority figure would he be? Would he be a politician? Would he be a military man? Would he be a powerful business man? ... I've been working with the director first to establish who this person is, and then put the life into his body, and then allow that kind of body and attitude to lend itself to developing the way this person would sound singing."
The role was outside his comfort zone performing in a boy band, he said, and he couldn't lean on choreography. He had taken no other jobs because he wanted to focus on his first major attempt at theater.
"Of course, I jumped in with both feet with Webber and Rice," he said. "It's like, 'You're playing arenas! Ok?' ... When this came across my desk, essentially, it was immediate in my mind. I knew it. This is one of the most important stories in human history."
One of the things he liked best, he said, was the professionalism of theater. The reliability.
"When you ask someone to show up on time, they show up on time," he said. "That doesn't happen in the music business, by the way."
The next day, after the show was canceled, Chasez retweeted a picture of himself and his colleagues flicking off the camera.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.