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This messiah rocks

Sebastian Bach, ex-Skid Row singer, picks up a new cross as lead in 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'

November 03, 2002|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Talk about crossing over. For the next nine months or more, Sebastian Bach metal dude is going to be transformed eight times a week into Jesus Christ Superstar.

The former singer of Skid Row cut a swath in the late '80s and early '90s as one of hard rock's most profane and unbridled wild boys. Now, at 34, he is continuing his out-of-the-blue parallel life as a star in Broadway musicals. He plays the perplexed, just-a-man, dog-whistle-tenor-singing Jesus in a touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera that opened Friday at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and is scheduled to travel the country at least through July.

Bach, still a touring rocker when not otherwise engaged, emerged as Broadway 'Bastian in 2000, when he spent four months playing the twin leads in "Jekyll & Hyde." The rocker, who claims more than 20 million worldwide album sales, hadn't dreamed of doing musical theater. But when the "Jekyll" producers needed a new star, Jason Flom, the Atlantic Records executive who signed Skid Row, tossed Bach's name into the hat. Bach, who grew up in Peterborough, Canada, collecting horror and fantasy comics, seized the chance.

Last year, he spent two months on Broadway as Riff-Raff in "The Rocky Horror Show." Now he gets to hang on a cross, clad in nothing but a loincloth -- and plenty of body paint to cover the raving demon tattooed on his left forearm and the "Youth Gone Wild" and "Carpe Diem" mottoes drilled into the right.

In person, Bach comes off as Jesus Christ Puppy-Dog -- 6 feet, 3 inches of long-limbed energy and enthusiasm devoted to making the moment enjoyable for himself and those around him.

But he was infamous in 1989, when he cracked a girl's skull with a bottle he'd flung angrily into a concert crowd in Springfield, Mass. And, despite many subsequent apologies, he still hasn't completely lived down the episode that same year when he was photographed wearing a T-shirt with a homophobic slogan.

Now, in an interview, Bach shows that he can be as engaging as he once seemed outrageous: a clasper of shoulders, a tapper of knees and a bestower of big parting bear hugs. He claps his hands, lets out a wheezy laugh and throws his head back merrily when he comes up with a bon mot, such as: "When I was a kid, Black Sabbath was as heavy and evil as you could get, and now they're playing for the queen -- and Sebastian Bach is Jesus Christ. The Lord works in mysterious ways."

Among those Bach has charmed is Robin Phillips, an old-school British stage director known for guiding the likes of Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith through turns in the classics. It was his job, as shepherd of "Jekyll & Hyde," to deliver a novice actor from Skid Row to Broadway.

Phillips lauds Bach's eagerness to learn, his work ethic and his constant gratitude and good humor -- then pauses. "I sound as if I'm going overboard. Let me assure you, this is not a usual habit. In a very long career, working with him has certainly been a highlight."

Bach still has some of the bad-boy rocker in him -- after his tussle with a barkeep in March at a tavern near his home in Middletown, N.J., he faced misdemeanor charges of assault, disorderly conduct and making threats. They were dropped in July when the accuser didn't turn up to testify. But this Jesus -- who says he neither started the fight nor turned the other cheek once it was on -- is nevertheless on probation, thanks to the small amount of cannabis police found on him after the altercation.

Overdoing the substances, Bach says, had a lot to do with the more sordid episodes from his youth-gone-wild days. Now he has an adult sorrow to drown: His father, painter David Bierk, died of cancer two months ago at 58.

"I can either throw myself into a bottle or sing the part of Jesus," says Bach, who has been with his wife, Maria, for 17 years and has sons named Paris and London. "I want to get my emotions out through my art."

Critics from the New York dailies didn't review him in "Jekyll" and "Rocky Horror" because he joined both shows long after they had opened. This time, pens and pads will be poised in every city.

Tom McCoy, the "Superstar" tour's executive producer, thinks good grades for performance and comportment will secure Bach's stage career.

Bach says he will always be a rocker. But the preparation and focus needed to excel in a touring musical are what he craves right now.

"After being the lead singer of a heavy-metal band for 15 years, I could use some discipline," he says. "How many years can you spend doing whatever you want? I have a personality where I get addicted to things, and now I'm addicted to this play."


`Jesus Christ Superstar'

Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

When: Tuesdays to Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Ends: Nov. 17

Price: $30 to $38

Contact: (714) 994-6310 or (562) 994-9801

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