He's got Jesus down pat.
Guess that's what happens when you're crucified eight times a week for a couple of years.
Stephen Lehew has played the lead in five different productions of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in the last two years -- the latest run billed as the 20th anniversary tour of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera.
"It's the most satisfying role I've ever done," says the musical theater veteran. "It's also the hardest -- physically, vocally and emotionally. ... But it's personally satisfying -- a sense of achievement to do a role eight times a week and do a better-than-good job at it. To keep up a standard."
Especially when you're doing Jesus.
So what can be said about "Jesus Christ Superstar" that hasn't been said before? It recounts, to wailing rifts of electric guitar, the seven days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. When it premiered 20 years ago, it caused quite a stir -- primarily lots of folks calling it blasphemous -- in the same way that Martin Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ" did a couple of years ago.
"The brouhaha of 'Last Temptation' was probably a publicist's dream," says Lehew. "All that attention. You know, I found it one of the most spiritually uplifting things I've ever seen. We have to learn to see something, then judge it. It might even support your beliefs. You never know. But that smacks of what most of the human race has done since when we came into existence. Righteous judgment."
No longer are there pickets and jeers and protests in front of the theater. Now, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is receiving standing ovations every night.
"Many people are only willing to see Jesus as just divine -- as if he had some special dispensation that made him different from everyone else," says Lehew. "He was the first to say that we are all the same. ... Jesus was a man, as we all are, with a spark of divinity to achieve the fulfillment. People who come see the production may see that there is a spark of divinity in themselves too."
"Jesus Christ Superstar" will be performed Tuesday through Sunday at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Tickets are $39.50 to $34.50 and available at TicketCenter and Ticketron. For information, call 202-994-6800.