A temporary role in 'Superstar' now seems everlasting


About a year and a half ago, Eric Kunze got the call.

He was in the middle of opening his fourth spa and patio store in Orange County, Calif., when the producers of the new tour of Jesus Christ Superstar wanted him to fill in as the lead for three weeks. He agreed, flew out to Baltimore, rehearsed for three days and took the stage at the Mechanic Theatre.

He had no idea that a year and a half later he would still be on tour with the show, which plays the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center Wednesday through Jan. 2. He sold his retail stores six months ago so he could focus on acting until the show runs its course.

"Touring is a different thing," Kunze said over the phone from a hotel room in Arizona. "It kinda puts your life on hold."

The commitments needed for a successful stage career are the reason Kunze took a break from acting in the first place. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine, Kunze moved to New York and dove into acting full-time. On Broadway, he played romantic leads in Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, and performed in four productions of Jesus Christ Superstar.

But after six years of putting on eight shows per week, he grew tired of the stage. He took some time off, flew back to Los Angeles to visit his family and laid low for about four years.

During that time, he worked in real estate, remodeling and selling homes in New York and Los Angeles. Then he got into retail. When the producers invited him to play the role of Jesus, he agreed because it would be easier than taking a lead role in most other plays. Because he'd performed the show so many times before, he knew the role inside out. Still, a two-hour musical with no intermission calls for tons of focus and emotion.

"You're going and going and going, and at the same time you're exhausted, but you have this huge rush like a roller-coaster ride," Kunze said. "There's never really any downtime. It goes quicker that way, and it's much easier too."

For this version of Jesus Christ Superstar, director Kevin Moriarty updated the set design and costumes, lending them an urban, futuristic tint. The premise is what would happen if Jesus Christ were to show up now or 30 years from now. The apostles are everyday guys who've been picked off the street, the high priests look like they stepped out of The Matrix and the guards could easily fit into Star Wars, Kunze said.

Fret not, die-hard Superstar fans - the music's still the same. Now, you can bring your kids to the show, and they'll relate to it a little better.

"People who've seen the original now are bringing their children, and the kids are relating to it like [the parents] related to it back in the '70s. I think we have these different generations out there now that are seeing it for the first time, and they're having fun. ... The whole visual might not appeal to the older crowd, but the music's still rockin'."

When the show completes its run, Kunze said he'll probably return to real estate for a while, because it's a field where jobs are flexible.

"In real estate, you're an independent contractor, you kinda pick up and go," he said. "It's very flexible. It's very compatible. I'll probably go back into that."

Unless he gets another call.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" plays at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center Wednesday through Jan. 2. The theater is at 12 N. Eutaw St. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $17-$62. Call 410-547-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

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