The Signature Theatre, Arlington’s award-winning company known for producing contemporary plays and reinventing classic musicals, closes out its 27th season with one of the most beloved plays to ever hit and dominate Broadway — a rock opera with unforgettable songs that include “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the upbeat title song, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
And in the lead role for the epic musical, the director, Joe Calarco, has tagged Nicholas Edwards, a new face at the Signature — a young, Black actor with roots in the Dominican Republic. He says he never imagined having the opportunity to portray Jesus of Nazareth and describes the experience as “a dream come true.”
“I’ve always had a problem seeing Jesus portrayed by a white man with blue eyes since he was from Jerusalem and would more accurately resemble someone from the Middle East,” said Edwards who credits his high school circle of close friends for persuading him to go after a role in “South Pacific” and discovering that he loved acting.
“With Jesus cast as a man of color, it humanizes the show and makes the story more relatable to what people in the world look like today,” he said. “In our production, you’ll see that this story is about a group of people searching for their faith. Then this man named Jesus comes along with new ideas for how things should be. Our show is about today and today’s people. I think audiences will listen more carefully, to every moment and will discover that ours is unlike the show they’ve probably seen several times before.”
He laughed when asked if he has the support of his family, quickly replying that his mother has always told him to “dream big.”
“She came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and has achieved an amazing career in corporate America. She’s always rooting for me, telling me not to ever settle. Like many other youth from families of color, my support system is the reason I’m here today,” he said.
Singing has always come easy for Edwards, with acting coming as an afterthought. He says he realized early on that he could study acting and dancing and add them to his arsenal of skills. But it wouldn’t be until right before the start of his junior year that he received the call and confirmation for which he had waited so long.
“I had started doubting myself, wondering if acting was really for me,” he said. “Many of my friends were auditioning and booking gigs. I had posted several videos online and a director in Portland had seen them. He needed someone to replace an actor in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” and I had done the show before. Someone wanted me to come save the day. Wow! It was my first professional job and I realized that I could do it.”
Edwards notes that the theater, unlike Hollywood, offers significantly more opportunities for people of color although things still aren’t 100 percent.
“Boundaries continue to be broken. ‘Hamilton’ had a lot to do with that. Now, we’re getting chances beyond traditional roles written for us [people of color] — real parts, real stories, people struggling — roles that require so much out of you, emotionally and physically. Even in this show, the director, who’s simply amazing, has put something together that’s totally outside of the box. He’s bending the rules with a completely diverse cast of mostly young actors like me. I knew this was going to be something special the first day of rehearsal. And the great thing is we’re all here for the art.”
Join Nicholas and his cast members in a production that continues Signature’s history of presenting the classics in fresh ways. Call 703-820-9771 for tickets or visit www.sigtheatre.org for more information. The play runs through July 2.