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'Superstar' in the Making?

March 22, 2012 By:
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Josh Young as Judas

In the currency of today's money market meltdown, what exactly would 30 pieces of silver be worth? 

 
Maybe the role of a lifetime. 
 
Josh Young has the coin of the realm right in his hand. As Judas in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's riveting and rigorous re-imagining of Jesus Christ Superstar, he has been praised with the biggest payoff of all positions: a superstar -- with apologies to the carpenter king of the title -- in the making. 
 
His childhood neighbors have been waiting for this Broadway debut even before he found happy trails as the moon-eyed Marius in Les Miserables at the Walnut Street Theatre in 2008. 
 
Tell the rabble to be quiet; they anticipate a riot. Well, it would be hard to quell the zeal of the neighbors and fans -- not rabble, but more the rabbi and congregants -- from his hometown temple, Ohev Shalom. "My parents are bringing a group of like 150 people up in May, lots from the shul," he says. 
 
What will they see? A 31-year-old Jew as Judas who out-vrooms the original Ben Vereen in the role as the turncoat who does indeed turn seditious at a seder that transforms into Jesus' last supper.  
 
This splendid and scintillating revival -- opening March 22 at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre in Manhattan -- provides an odd coupling of character and persona; after all, "traitor" is not one of gentle Josh's traits: Having traction may be, however. 
 
He's had it ever since Bar Mitzvah age, giving a warm shout-out now to Young People's Theater Workshop, "where I got my start in theater in Swarthmore," a great source as summer camp for kids interested in theater work, he avows. 
 
This summer he has other plans, earning hosannas for his history work on stage. What's the buzz? "Before I started on this journey," he says of the production with enough of director Des McAnuff's infusion of depth and dimension to rekindle this classic in Canada, "the name 'Judas' conjured up images of the devil." 
 
Being brought up a Conservative Jew, Young understood that Judas was "the evil man 'responsible' for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ." 
 
Actors often consider <em>Variety</em> their Bible; this actor turned for research to the New Testament, which he had been unfamiliar with. "I read the entire New Testament front to back, all of the Gospels and all of the Lost Gospels I could get my hands on." 
 
His conclusion: "I don't think Judas was a traitor; I think he thought he was doing the right thing," turning in Jesus to the Romans because, as Judas tells Jesus at the outset: "You've started to believe/The things they say of you./You really do believe/ This talk of God is true./And all the good you've done/Will soon get swept away./You've begun to matter more/Than the things you say." 
 
Did money matter to Judas? "I believe the money" -- Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver for his treachery -- "had nothing to do with it. Judas was worried that the Romans would come down hard on the Jews if Jesus didn't stop his divine preaching." 
 
'Our people," says the Bucks County native son, reflecting on Jews and their lethal legacy, "had been enslaved, persecuted and killed throughout history at that point and I don't think Judas wanted that to happen again." 
 
But crossing up his friend led to dire results. "I don't think Judas had any idea that by turning Jesus in, he was condemning him to death." 
 
Was Young born to play the part -- knock wood? "When I sang along," he says of his childhood familiarity with the recording, "I would sing every role, but Judas was my favorite." 
 
Nothing could be bigger -- and brassier -- than the title number, which Young gets to belt in that graceful voice of his. 
 
Josh Young -- superstar? From Wallingford to the Great White Way -- it's a broad jump to Broadway: "It's a trip," says Young. 
 
"I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be and I'm very happy." 
 
Not surprisingly, so are his parents. Russell and Judith always knew "he would go places," says his mom. It's all so elementary: "I got a call from his second-grade music teacher who had heard him sing and he told me, 'Your son has a gift.' " 
 
Around the time of his  Bar Mitzvah, his mother recalls, the music teacher at the Shipley School, the prestigious Bryn Mawr school her son attended, "built a whole production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' just so Josh could play Tevye." 
 
Miracle of miracles? No, there's an explanation of where the talent comes from, claims Judith, who is musical herself. "My mother's side was very musical, including her uncles, who did not survive the Holocaust." 
 
But Josh's grandmother did, and, at 90, "she'll be at his show." 
 
Not one to succumb to self-importance, Young never threw his weight around -- he threw it out: At age 17, he weighed 250 pounds, 100 pounds more than the 5-foot 8-inch star does now. 
 
Eventually, "I started losing weight." But he never lost that self-image. "I still feel like a fat ugly kid," he exclaims. 
 
His great looks these days -- and of course his talent -- are not lost on producers. Or on Alia Rosenstock, his fiance, whom Young met in Toronto, where she is associate artist manager at Dean Artists Management. 
 
He's managed to impress locally, too. "I've always thought Josh to be an extraordinary talent and great actor," says Bernard Havard, producing artistic director of the Walnut Street Theatre, the happy home for Young's "Miserables."
 
Bring him home? "I hope he will come back to the Walnut Street Theatre to perform again for Philadelphia audiences in the future.  We're very proud of him."
 
The Syracuse U. grad -- who had attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts in Voice and Drama -- and West Side Story alum, Young has that holiday feeling -- and maybe some of the non-Jewish members of the cast have four or more questions about what was being served at that last supper portrayed on stage 
 
Herod and Haggadah? "We will most certainly have a cast Passover," Young says. 
 
Will he be the one looking for the hidden afikomen? It's all about finds now, he concedes. Indeed says the star whose latest recording is "Still Dreaming of Paradise," the dream has led to a great awakening.  
 
"I found paradise in Stratford, Ontario," he says of this Superstar's seminal home. 
 
And possibly an even bigger piece of it on Broadway. 
In the currency of today's money market meltdown, what exactly would 30 pieces of silver be worth? 
 
Maybe the role of a lifetime. 
 
Josh Young has the coin of the realm right in his hand. As Judas in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's riveting and rigorous re-imagining of Jesus Christ Superstar, he has been praised with the biggest payoff of all positions: a superstar -- with apologies to the carpenter king of the title -- in the making. 
 
His childhood neighbors have been waiting for this Broadway debut even before he found happy trails as the moon-eyed Marius in  Les Miserables  at the Walnut Street Theatre in 2008. 
 
Tell the rabble to be quiet; they anticipate a riot. Well, it would be hard to quell the zeal of the neighbors and fans -- not rabble, but more the rabbi and congregants -- from his hometown temple, Ohev Shalom. "My parents are bringing a group of like 150 people up in May, lots from the shul," he says. 
 
What will they see? A 31-year-old Jew as Judas who out-vrooms the original Ben Vereen in the role as the turncoat who does indeed turn seditious at a seder that transforms into Jesus' last supper.  
 
This splendid and scintillating revival -- opening March 22 at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre in Manhattan -- provides an odd coupling of character and persona; after all, "traitor" is not one of gentle Josh's traits: Having traction may be, however. 
 
 
He's had it ever since Bar Mitzvah age, giving a warm shout-out now to Young People's Theater Workshop, "where I got my start in theater in Swarthmore," a great source as summer camp for kids interested in theater work, he avows. 
 
This summer he has other plans, earning hosannas for his history work on stage. What's the buzz? "Before I started on this journey," he says of the production with enough of director Des McAnuff's infusion of depth and dimension to rekindle this classic in Canada, "the name 'Judas' conjured up images of the devil." 
 
Being brought up a Conservative Jew, Young understood that Judas was "the evil man 'responsible' for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ." 
 
Actors often consider Variety their Bible; this actor turned for research to the New Testament, which he had been unfamiliar with. "I read the entire New Testament front to back, all of the Gospels and all of the Lost Gospels I could get my hands on." 
 
His conclusion: "I don't think Judas was a traitor; I think he thought he was doing the right thing," turning in Jesus to the Romans because, as Judas tells Jesus at the outset: "You've started to believe/The things they say of you./You really do believe/ This talk of God is true./And all the good you've done/Will soon get swept away./You've begun to matter more/Than the things you say." 
 
Did money matter to Judas? "I believe the money" -- Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver for his treachery -- "had nothing to do with it. Judas was worried that the Romans would come down hard on the Jews if Jesus didn't stop his divine preaching." 
 
'Our people," says the Bucks County native son, reflecting on Jews and their lethal legacy, "had been enslaved, persecuted and killed throughout history at that point and I don't think Judas wanted that to happen again." 
 
But crossing up his friend led to dire results. "I don't think Judas had any idea that by turning Jesus in, he was condemning him to death." 
 
Was Young born to play the part -- knock wood? "When I sang along," he says of his childhood familiarity with the recording, "I would sing every role, but Judas was my favorite." 
 
Nothing could be bigger -- and brassier -- than the title number, which Young gets to belt in that graceful voice of his. 
 
Josh Young -- superstar? From Wallingford to the Great White Way -- it's a broad jump to Broadway: "It's a trip," says Young. 
 
"I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be and I'm very happy." 
 
Not surprisingly, so are his parents. Russell and Judith always knew "he would go places," says his mom. It's all so elementary: "I got a call from his second-grade music teacher who had heard him sing and he told me, 'Your son has a gift.' " 
 
Around the time of his  Bar Mitzvah, his mother recalls, the music teacher at the Shipley School, the prestigious Bryn Mawr school her son attended, "built a whole production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' just so Josh could play Tevye." 
 
Miracle of miracles? No, there's an explanation of where the talent comes from, claims Judith, who is musical herself. "My mother's side was very musical, including her uncles, who did not survive the Holocaust." 
 
But Josh's grandmother did, and, at 90, "she'll be at his show." 
 
Not one to succumb to self-importance, Young never threw his weight around -- he threw it out: At age 17, he weighed 250 pounds, 100 pounds more than the 5-foot 8-inch star does now. 
 
Eventually, "I started losing weight." But he never lost that self-image. "I still feel like a fat ugly kid," he exclaims. 
 
His great looks these days -- and of course his talent -- are not lost on producers. Or on Alia Rosenstock, his fiance, whom Young met in Toronto, where she is associate artist manager at Dean Artists Management. 
 
He's managed to impress locally, too. "I've always thought Josh to be an extraordinary talent and great actor," says Bernard Havard, producing artistic director of the Walnut Street Theatre, the happy home for Young's "Miserables."
 
Bring him home? "I hope he will come back to the Walnut Street Theatre to perform again for Philadelphia audiences in the future.  We're very proud of him."
 
The Syracuse U. grad -- who had attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts in Voice and Drama -- and West Side Story alum, Young has that holiday feeling -- and maybe some of the non-Jewish members of the cast have four or more questions about what was being served at that last supper portrayed on stage 
 
Herod and Haggadah? "We will most certainly have a cast Passover," Young says. 
 
Will he be the one looking for the hidden afikomen? It's all about finds now, he concedes. Indeed says the star whose latest recording is "Still Dreaming of Paradise," the dream has led to a great awakening.  
 
"I found paradise in Stratford, Ontario," he says of this Superstar's seminal home. 
 
And possibly an even bigger piece of it on Broadway. 

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