York Musical Theatre Company are staging Jesus Christ Superstar at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from November 27 to 30. Here John Whitney, who plays Jesus, and Marlena Kelli, who plays Mary Magdalene, talk about the show

These are your first roles for York Musical Theatre Company, could you tell us what drew you to being in this show?

John: The show itself. Honestly it's an epic and when you get offered a dream role how can you say no? But we both have a bit more personal reasons as well...

Marlena: I sang it in my mirror when I was little and 'literally' dreamed of laying Mary since.

John: My long time friend Ryan Thornton showed me the post from the Facebook page and when I showed it to my partner I had too much encouragement to say no.

John, you are playing the role of Jesus. What challenges are there to playing such a demanding part?

Firstly, the technical difficulty. It's a hard part to sing with a big range and some difficult timings in places but that all comes with practice. Approaching him as a character I've definitely enjoyed the challenge of being able to express what he might be dealing with at the time, from point A to Z. For me, he starts not really fully understanding what's required of him and slowly over the first act he gets the full realisation of exactly what is going to happen. In the second act it deals with his human side more and dealing with exactly what he's going to go through. It's a lot of fun, I have to say, and with help from Paul our director, it’s really coming together.

What are you both looking forward to the most about performing this amazing piece?

We're both looking forward to playing our dream parts but more specifically...

Marlena: Being able to unleash a lot of passion in the role.

John: The leper scene. It's kinda scary. I love it.

John, could you tell us a bit more about your background in musical theatre/drama/previous shows and roles?

Aside from two university productions with a student led organisation MPS (Frankenstein A New Musical, as the creature, and Sweet Charity, as Oscar Lindquist), while I was studying, I've done a fair few shows with York Stage Musicals in the past. They were the first company to let me in when I came to York, starting with Billy Elliot, then Footloose and Jesus Christ Superstar, all of which I was part of the ensemble for and had a great time. Then I did Spring Awakening, my first role with the company as Earnst, and then Evita I was Peron and finally in a production of Spamalot I was Lancelot. I'm actually quite proud of that list now I see it. I'm really looking forward to this production of Jesus Christ Superstar as it's my first real co-lead character.

Marlena, could you tell us a bit more about your background in musical theatre/drama/previous shows and roles?

I went to central school for speech and drama as my educational background but due to my mother falling ill I had to set it aside for some years to care for her. I then hit the jazz scene for a while and love jazz with a passion. Shortly followed by two shows with York Stage Musicals as well, they were Spend, Spend, Spend and The Sound Of Music, and they were wonderful to be part of. Now I am with this new company and looking to really show what I'm made of.

To both, do you have a favourite song in the show that’s not one that you sing?

John: Heaven on their minds... next question.

What do you think it is about Jesus Christ Superstar that keeps it fresh and alive with new generations of audiences decade after decade?

It sounds incredible and its core story is still relevant in a lot of people lives. Personally we feel it deals with human nature and how that never changes. Which is fascinating to so many people.

Marlena, you are playing the role of Mary Magdalene, which some may say is a character that’s misunderstood. How are you approaching playing a complicated character such as her?

I dig deep. Mary is somebody who is very streetwise and had to survive on her own, like I have. She never had someone looking out for her and I lost my parents at a fairly early age and had to find something to believe in. In this she finds Jesus. Jesus' love got through to her and it is pure. He respects her as a person and a valued friend. That level of trust is profound for her and I feel a real connection with that feeling. She definitely loves him and playing with that relationship and her attitude towards this changing environment has really started to come through. The song ‘I don’t know how to love him’ really illustrates it for me.

What can you tell us about the process and journey you’ve been on with York Musical Theatre Company so far? Are you enjoying the rehearsals?

Paul Laidlaw is a fantastic director, we've both said it but now we can put it in black and white. The Company of people supporting the production is tremendous, they turn up every day with some new piece of information ready to tell the cast about how we're approaching this scene or that lighting change or this piece of costume. You can see the cogs turning and everything working together like a well-oiled machine. At least, that's how it looks from the outside. As for the rest of the Company we both agree we haven't seen this many lovely, kind, accepting people in one place for a long time. They are so hard working you wouldn't believe it and with that, hopefully not to jinx it, but we're ahead of schedule. Everyone is chomping at the bit to get going! We're having a great time with each other, things are going swimmingly and what an amazingly talented group of people we have. Gosh, we could go on forever but compliments to everyone who's had a hand in this so far and will continue to help.

To both, could you try to sum up the show in three words?

Passionate, celebrative, heartbreaking.

And finally, to both, what experience would you like audiences to have when they come to see it?

John: I would like audiences to be glued to the edge of their seats in anticipation of every scene as it unfolds, and with all this talent on stage I want members of the audience to leave inspired from our performances to get involved in a company and start singing too, or just singing the show in your shower might do as well!

Marlena: I'd like to touch people's emotions with our performances and with the story in particular, the fact that people sometimes make you lose hope, but when somebody picks you up and dusts you off, it can restore your faith in humanity

Jesus Christ Superstar runs from November 27 to 30 at The Joseph Rowntree Theatre York. Tickets £18, concessions £16. Visit www.josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk