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In a modern rock opera about the life of Christ, these three musicians are learning a lot about Jesus—and themselves.
!Hero, a Christian rock opera depicting the gospel story in a contemporary setting, wrapped up its fall tour last night in San Antonio. By the numbers, the tour was a smashing success, selling out most of its 21 dates—likely setting up a spring leg of the tour. The energetic 2½-hour show starred Michael Tait (dc talk, Tait) in the lead role of Hero, a modern-day Jesus; Rebecca St. James in the role of Maggie, a modern-day Mary Magdalene; and Audio Adrenaline frontman Mark Stuart in the role of Petrov, a modern-day Peter. The supporting cast included the talents of T-Bone, Paul Wright, Donnie (formerly of Raze), Tait's personal band, and others, plus a fine ensemble of dancers/back-up singers. The story was written by Christian rock vets Eddie DeGarmo and Bob Farrell. A double-disc CD was released in September, accompanied by a series of book and comic books. (For more info, go to www.herouniverse.com.)
How did each of you land these roles?Mark Stuart: Eddie DeGarmo wanted a character that was kind of a rock && roll big mouth, and he thought about me! I don't know if I'm flattered or embarrassed. I think Peter was always a guy who spoke before he thought. He didn't hold a lot back. I can definitely relate to Peter in a lot of ways, in that sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. I've been known to speak my mind when I should probably hold my tongue.Rebecca St. James: Eddie knows I'm a dramatic person, and I think he was drawn to that side of me when casting this role.Michael Tait: I guess Eddie thought there was no better person to play the part of a modern-day Jesus than myself. One reason is that I'm an African-American, and he wanted to throw that twist into the system. But when he offered me the role, I had to think about it. I was busy trying to launch Tait—my solo band career—and that's a lot of work. And because something like !HERO has never been done before, it's quite overwhelming. But then I thought, Yes, this is definitely the right thing to do right now. What a unique new way to share the gospel.Mark, you wrote "Walk on Water" for Audio Adrenaline, which obviously refers to Peter. How has your perspective of Peter changed since then, now that you're playing the role of Petrov?Stuart: I think my perspective pretty much remains the same. Petrov is a rough and burly over-the-top character, but he's all about Christ. He realizes that when he's focused on Jesus he's all right, and when he's not, he gets into trouble. And that goes back to the Bible verse, when Peter stepped out of the boat, he could walk on water as long as he kept his eyes on Christ. That still is the character of Petrov.What are you learning about yourself in playing this role?Stuart: Just doing !HERO, not necessarily the role of Petrov, brings out an element of faith for me. I've been in a band, doing the same thing for 11 or 12 years. Doing something so radically different like this helps me relate to Petrov, because his whole life is turned upside down. He left what he was doing—fishing—and decided to follow Christ. That was a big change in his life. I can relate to that, because with !HERO, I'm stepping out in faith and trying something new.
Mark Stuart and Rebecca St. James as Petrov and Maggie
What about you, Rebecca?St. James: It's been really good for me to play this character. I find it easy to sing these songs, first because it's passionate rock, but also because I'm singing about a subject I've always talked about—God's grace and forgiveness and second chances. And now I'm playing a woman who represents all of that. Over the years, I've heard people's stories of the pain of having a sexual history outside of marriage. So I think I can get into Maggie's mind because of that. I'm very excited about delving deeper into her character. I've been doing some research on Mary Magdalene, because I just wanted to get into her head a bit more.And what have you learned?St. James: We've always pictured Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. But the other aspect to her is that she was possessed by demons. She was dealing with major spiritual warfare, the likes of which most of us have no clue about. It's a reminder to me that we don't just live in a flesh-and-blood world. It's a spiritual battle out there, and Satan is trying to sway us to his way, trying to draw us away from God's way.You've always been very outspoken about sexual purity, so it's ironic that you're playing the role of a prostitute. In what ways are you like Mary Magdalene?St. James: Obviously I can't relate to having a sexual past, although I've sinned and fallen short a lot. I think I'm like her in that she seeks out truth in following Jesus. Getting into her character has helped me understand God's love and grace in a deeper way. That's what I hope to communicate on stage. My prayer is that the Lord would help me portray her in a way that's true and deep, so people can see the transformation. I want people to see the difference in Maggie from her old life to her new life with Jesus.Michael, playing the role of Jesus seems like such a daunting task. How does a sinner play the sinless Son of God? How are you processing that?Tait: Very carefully. It's hard when you consider who you really are, and who Christ is. It makes you think deeper about where you stand. When we were making a trailer to promote !HERO, I had to hang on a makeshift cross for three hours. I was hanging by ropes, and it was tough. My shoulders were burning and I was having some trouble getting my breath. After about an hour and a half, I was like Whoa, I'm not nailed here, but I'm in pain. I'm not getting whipped, but I'm in pain. I'm not getting slashed in the side, but I'm in pain. I'm not getting beat, but I'm in pain. I was very uncomfortable, to the point of wanting to complain. But how could I think about whining when Christ endured that times a million? At that moment, I thought about how unworthy am I to play this role. I'm not Jesus. I'm a screwed-up sinner saved by grace. All I know is when it's all said and done, there's going to be some massive, amazing, needed lesson from this all, and I can't wait.A lesson for you? Or for the audience?Tait: For me, because I know who I am, and the only way I can look at myself is because I know God loves me. Because I know my best is filthy rags. That's not false humility, that's just a fact.
Michael Tait, simulating the crucifixion for a promo video
Mark, what's it like watching Michael get "crucified"?Stuart: When we do the crucifixion scene, you realize that the death and the violence that took place in the Bible was real. To put yourself into that mode, watching your hero being beaten and crucified, is pretty devastating. Emotionally, it depletes you. That's a moment when we really feel what it was like to be one of those characters. But for me, it's even more intense. Yes, Michael Tait plays the character Hero. But Michael is also a friend of mine. And I think that's what Peter and Mary Magdalene felt: This is not only the Savior of the world, but he's a friend, and he's being mocked and crucified in front of you. It just makes it more of a reality. It's very moving.What do all three of you hope to accomplish through the stage show?Tait: I think it has a lot of potential to reach non-believers. The medium of music is powerful. It speaks to our generation better than politicians, and sometimes better than preachers. Sometimes the only way to a kid's heart is through his headphones.St. James: I hope and pray lots of Christian kids and families will come. But I really hope and pray non-Christians will come too. There's an intrigue factor that I think will help draw in unsaved people. I think it's hip, thinking about what if Jesus came now to a modern city like New York. It's like a modern-day Jesus Christ Superstar. I really believe in this project, and I think it's going to be really powerful.Stuart: I'd love to see it take off and impact a generation. This is not just about the music. This is about telling the story all over again in a new way. My hopes are that it changes the world. I know that sounds like wishful thinking, but I think something like this could impact a generation beyond what we could do just as Audio Adrenaline or as Tait, or what Rebecca could do just as a solo artist. When we come together and create art like this and take chances like this, I think we could really move mountains and introduce people to the gospel.