Behind the Scenes with Kodiak Thompson from Jesus Christ Superstar
Sarah Garofalo spoke with Kodiak Thompson of Jesus Christ Superstar about his role, the show, his career and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Sarah: Good morning. Welcome to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. We’re about halfway through our 2022-2023 Broadway season, and today’s guest is from what will be our final show of the Broadway season, Jesus Christ Superstar. Today I’m here with Kodiak Thompson. Kodiak, welcome to the show.
Kodiak: Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.
Sarah: We’re super excited to have you today, and thank you for joining me. I’m super excited to be talking about this show. But before we talk about the show, I would like to get to know more about you. Tell me, what’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening with you.
Kodiak: Well, I’m currently in probably a very different climate than where you are in Worcester. I’m in Naples, Florida, and I’m on my sixth month on tour with Jesus Christ Superstar. This is my first national tour and I’ve just been loving it so far, getting to tour across America and Canada and reach audiences with this powerful piece of theatre.
Sarah: That’s so exciting. Yeah, it’s super cold here, so I’m very jealous that you’re warm down there. I saw in your bio that you’re from Hershey, Pennsylvania, is that that right?
Kodiak: Yes. I grew up in small town America in Hershey, PA. I was born in DC, but my parents left the government life and raised myself and my three siblings in Hershey. That’s where I got my start performing at a really young age.
Sarah: I love that. Are you a fan of Hershey Park?
Kodiak: Oh my gosh, yes. I was so lucky to grow up in Hershey, because 5 million tourists come from all around the world to Hershey Park every summer, but I just got to have a season pass and walk there from my house. I spent every weekend there growing up.
Sarah: Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous. I know that there’s some cool artists that perform there, so did you ever see anyone cool there?
Kodiak: Well, we have a lot of concerts come through. We’ve had everyone from Green Day, to Billy Joel to Beyoncé. I’ve gotten to hear them from my backyard.
Sarah: No way. That’s so cool. I also read that you are trained in acting and opera and ballet. I just want to know, how did you get your start in performing? When did you know that this was your calling?
Kodiak: Sure. I knew this was my calling from when I was about five years old. I was just a very expressive child, very dramatic. My parents needed a healthy outlet for that energy, other than taking it out on pranking my siblings. So, when sports didn’t seem to be satisfying my energetic needs, they signed me up for dance class and acting classes. So from the age of six, I was doing acting improv classes in my community. From there, teachers began to connect me with directors and I began performing professionally at the age of six doing regional theater in the capital of Pennsylvania. I did A Christmas Carol there as Tiny Tim, which I think so many little theater boys get their start doing that iconic role, and they just get the bug. That was my story. I just felt such a sense of community and safety in my theater family from such a young age that I never wanted to stop. It made me feel more alive than anything else, and more connected to God and to my purpose on this planet really using my natural gifts to reach audiences and feel that sort of energetic exchange that can really only happen in live theater. From then on, I expanded my dance training, I did a study abroad and studied ballet and France. I did opera as a child as well playing Amahl in The Night Visitors. I did voice lessons, I did choir throughout high school and then when I got to my last year of high school, it just seemed like the obvious route to pursue a BFA in Musical Theater, which I did. Since then, I have been working professionally which has been such a blessing. The pandemic was very difficult because I did graduate in the pandemic, but fortunately within six months, things were settled enough for me to begin working again and I’m just so grateful to be back on stage.
Sarah: That’s incredible and so inspiring. I love that. We do A Christmas Carol here every year at the theatre. Our President and CEO is actually the director of A Christmas Carol. I know that all the kids that are in that show go on to do amazing things. I think that that show is truly such a jumpstart for everybody. Our Tiny Tims are always adorable.
Kodiak: That makes my heart buzz. It’s just such a special show.
Sarah: It is, it’s so great. I was poking around on your website and you’ve been in some super cool things. You’ve been in some big names, Kinky Boots, Mamma Mia, The Little Mermaid, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, the list goes on and on. What have been your favorite roles that you’ve had? What stands out to you on your resume?
Kodiak: That’s a great question. Every time I read my resume, I have so many feelings and flashbacks about the shows I’ve done because truly each one has been special and a special chapter of my life. I truly feel like I learned so much from my work. I’m very, very thankful for that. If I had to choose one that I thought was really, really fun and that I would like to do again, maybe I would say probably Bobby Child in Crazy For You, because that show involves all the triple threat abilities of leading, long love ballads and upbeat Gershwin patter songs, doing tap production numbers and comedic timing with playing two roles at once. I would probably I would probably say that was like my favorite role that I’ve ever done, with a close second being Musidorus in Head Over Heels for very similar reasons. Even though that show takes place in a completely different world theatrically, it’s the kind of role where you have to deal with a character inhabiting a different persona throughout the show and sort of going back and forth and playing with that duel energy. I’ve really enjoyed that challenge on stage.
Sarah: That’s so cool. You just seem so multifaceted and so talented. You’re a jack of all trades. We’ve got a conservatory here at the theatre and we have improv classes, we have dance classes, we have acting classes, pretty much everything and anything that you can think of. I’m wondering, were there any specific classes that you took that jumpstarted your career and your feelings into the performing arts?
Kodiak: Wow, that’s a great question. I’m happy to hear that young artists in your area have access to that conservatory because that’s definitely what it takes to develop; a safe space to fail and to learn by doing the craft and not trying to be perfectionistic about it. I hope that that’s something that the next generations of artists have access to, even more than I did. I will say one thing that I feel like taught me the most in my training was having improv classes where I could use my imagination and create roles or run scenes using very few textual clues, rules and guidelines. I think that pushed me to overcome a fear of failure and a sort of self-criticism that could have otherwise really inhibited my growth. In today’s world of permanence, especially with technology, I think kids run the risk of over-editing themselves and jumping to a perfect product rather than trusting the process and going through the highs and lows, the good ideas and the bad ideas and letting themselves really shed layers before they get to something that they want to share. I would say improv is probably the most powerful tool, improv dance and choral singing seeing yourself as something part of something greater than yourself. Those were the most impactful to me.
Sarah: I love that, and I totally agree. Improv must mean so much to you as a performer and it must give you so many skills to be yourself on the stage and teach you about yourself as a performer. I love the conservatory, I think it’s wonderful. I’m in my 20s and I just started taking tap for the first time. It shows everybody that no matter what age you are, it’s never too late to find yourself and find what works for you.
Sarah: Speaking of your website, I saw that you like to make homemade bread. Is that something that you picked up during the pandemic? I just thought that was so fun that you included that.
Kodiak: Yes. Thanks for asking. No one’s ever asked me about that before. During the pandemic, I had a summer off from school in between semesters, summer of 2020, and there were no theaters open, so I couldn’t do my usual summer performing job and just live at a theater and do a million musicals. I had to find another productive, constructive use of my summer. My father had spent the past three years renovating our family cottage on a lake in Maine, which is actually the origin of “On Golden Pond,” which was written by my uncle. I spent the whole summer living in that cottage and biking through the woods because I didn’t have a car. I’d bike four miles to a bakery, which was the only bakery open in the town because it also sold groceries, so it was allowed to stay open throughout the pandemic as a grocery store. I would go there early in the mornings and hang out with the bread and pie bakers and learn their skills, and then work my shift at the front at the at the register. I would go home and bake for all my neighbors and deliver them things around the lake. When I got back to college, I continued baking bread as a way to build community and bring people some joy as we quarantined throughout the rest of our college experience.
Sarah: That is so sweet. What a cute story. That just sounds so magical. I love that you were in Maine, I’m excited for you to come to New England again.
Kodiak: Me too. Actually, all my neighbors from around the lake are going to come to Worcester to see the show.
Sarah: Yay! Oh, you’ll have to bring some bread.
Kodiak: Maybe I will. Even the bakers are coming from the pie shop I worked at.
Sarah: Wow, I love that. Let’s talk about the show. The Hanover Theatre just celebrated our 15th anniversary, and Jesus Christ Superstar was part of our inaugural season way back in 2008, 15 years ago. So, we’re super, super excited to have it back on our main stage. I know it’s an iconic show. Obviously, it’s been around for a while, you are celebrating your 50th anniversary with this tour. For those who haven’t seen it yet, can you give us a little rundown of what it’s about and what people can expect?
Kodiak: Sure. This is obviously an iconic piece of musical theater, but also rock. It was just a concept originally by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and it was just an album that you play, start to finish about 90 minutes that told the story of the last few days of Jesus’s life, with the conflict between Judas and Jesus and the intersection of their relationships with Mary Magdalene and the powers that play at that time in history with the Romans and the oppression of the Jewish people. It’s sort of historical, sort of biblical and very rock and roll. I think it’s been appealing for audiences on all sides of the Christian spectrum for sure.
We have people in the audience who are there to worship, and we have people in the audience who are just there to enjoy the music and to rock out. I think that’s something that really is special about this show, that it doesn’t necessarily exclude anyone of any age or faith. I’ve seen people from all walks of life freely just enjoying the story.Kodiak Thompson
Kodiak: It definitely speaks to the universal themes that everyone loves about live theater, exploring love, betrayal, friendship, the passage of time, mortality, divinity and all of those universal themes.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I think that live theater tends to have that effect of bringing people together. Andrew Lloyd Webber obviously has done some amazing things like CATS and Phantom of the Opera. Have you seen any of those?
Kodiak: I have. I’ve seen CATS a bunch. I’m a dancer too, so I really like CATS. I think it’s an interesting show for sure. A lot of people don’t think there’s enough of a plot or are very singable music, but I always enjoyed the uniqueness of the world that they create. I think that’s one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s strong suits as a writer, he really comes up with these concepts of a world that the audience can lose themselves in. This show is certainly no exception.
Sarah: Totally. CATS was part of our Broadway season last year and I had never seen it. I didn’t even know what it was about, I went in totally blind and I had such a good time. I loved it, so I’m really looking forward to this one, too. I haven’t seen Jesus Christ Superstar before. You’re playing the role of Annas, so can you tell us what it’s like to play this character, what your character is like and how you prepared for the role?
Kodiak: Absolutely. I did not foresee myself playing this villainous role at all. I actually auditioned for seven roles in this show. I learned this material in the room at the final callback, because they hadn’t seen me for it yet. They taught it to me in the room. This was the role that I was absolutely right for, and now I see that. I’m one of the high priests. Along with Kyphosis, we are one of the ruling powers at this point in history. Our function in the show is that we feel our authority and the fiber of our society is threatened by this intense following of Jesus Christ, and we’re afraid of the power that he has and the influence that he has over our people. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read the Bible, but we do everything that we can to preserve our way of life with pure intentions. I think that part is important for my enjoyment of my role, and for my full commitment to my role because enacting you can never believe that your character is the bad guy. You can’t believe that you’re evil and that you have evil intentions. I think Annas and Caiaphas have very pure intentions. Looking at it through a historical lens, they’re on the wrong side of history. What they are striving to do, in their minds and through their lens, is the right and good thing.
Sarah: Wow. I just think that this is an amazing show. I love the way that you see your role and the way that you describe your character. I think that’s just incredible, and very rare for people to think of villainous characters as kindhearted. I want to talk about the numbers in the show and your favorite number in particular.
Kodiak: I think my favorite number is probably my first song with all the priests. We come down the cross which is a huge set piece.
Kodiak: It’s two levels. We have the full band on stage built into the scaffolding. You can see the instrumentalists while they’re playing the show and like acting along with us, it’s amazing. All the priests come out in this first number, which is “This Jesus Must Die.” It’s like a rock bop, like boy band number, basically. It’s so fun every night and the audience just eats it up.
Sarah: I love that. I’m so excited to hear that. Speaking of that, what is your favorite part of the show in general? It doesn’t have to be a part that you’re in necessarily, but, just a part of the show that the audience seems to really enjoy and get into the most.
Kodiak: Sure. I think I really enjoy “Superstar,” which is one of the finale numbers, certainly the biggest final production number of the show. Without giving too much away, I think people are always really touched by this number because it makes them uncomfortable. The music is so upbeat and has this epic driving pulse and contagious melody. Its infectious melody that just makes you want to sing along. At the same time, you’re watching something really, really horrible and inhumane happen on stage. What you’re seeing and what you’re hearing are completely different experiences. It evokes the sort of ethical dilemma that the characters are feeling the entire show in the audience. Now, it’s turned on to you, and you don’t know how you feel. You don’t know whether you would join the folly, or fight against it because you’re in a state of inner conflict, enjoying this beautiful song and watching something horrible at the same time.
Sarah: Yeah, I have heard that song. I think that people are just going to have to come see it for themselves on our stage. I’m really excited to see you on our stage as well. It’s been great talking to you. Before we wrap up, do you have any parting words that you want to say any last words about the show?
Kodiak: People need to come see it for themselves and make up their own minds about this production. It’s one of the more controversial ones because it is nothing like anyone has seen before.
The biggest compliment that we hear at the stage door every single night from lifelong fans of this material is that this is the best version they’ve ever seen and it’s not what they were expecting, but it’s an angle that they hadn’t considered before that brought new life to their love of this show.Kodiak Thompson
Sarah: Amazing. A show that’s been around for 50 years, sometimes it can get bogged down, it can get repetitive, so I think it’s incredible that you’re all doing something fresh with it and people are still loving it just as much as they were 50 years ago. I think that’s incredible.
Kodiak: It’s been an honor to be a part of it.
Sarah: We’re very, very, very excited to welcome you back to New England. It’s just been so great talking to you. I know that we’re excited to have Jesus Christ Superstar back on our stage after 15 long years. Jesus Christ Superstar will be here in Worcester at The Hanover theatre from April 27 through April 30. Tickets start at just $39 and they can be found on our website at TheHanoverTheatre.org. Kodiak, it has been super wonderful talking to you today. Thank you so much for joining me.
Kodiak: Likewise, thank you so much for having me and we’ll see you soon.
Sarah: Yes, thank you. I will see you soon. Everyone else, I will see you next week on Behind the Scenes.