Eric Kunze plays the savior in Messianic musical 'Superstar'

Like Jesus, actor Eric Kunze has been in his share of hot water.

Kunze, who moonlights as a hot-tub salesman in Orange County, Calif., stars as Jesus of Nazareth in the new touring production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'

The hit musical depicts the last seven days in the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. Carl Anderson, who appeared in the 1973 film of the same name, reprises his role as Judas.

Kunze, a Broadway veteran known for his romantic leading roles in 'Les Miserables' and 'Miss Saigon,' stepped into the part this spring when rocker Sebastian Bach (former frontman for Skid Row), was pink-slipped as the Messiah.

'I came in at the end of April in Baltimore, and it was pretty easy,' Kunze says. 'I knew the music and the words, so it just was a matter of learning where to stand for each scene. I learned it over a few days.'

The 32-year-old baritenor (equally adept at baritone and tenor parts) says that although he only has one solo number in 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' he also joins in for most of the other songs. The soundtrack has made it to No. 1 on the charts three times since the show debuted and includes such hits as 'I Don't Know How to Love Him,' 'Could We Start Again, Please' and, of course, 'Superstar.'

First performed in 1971, the show catapulted composer Andrew Lloyd Webber ('Cats,' 'Phantom of the Opera') and lyricist Tim Rice ('Beauty and the Beast,' 'The Lion King') to fame. Kunze says that the show hasn't changed much since it first played in London.

'The music is pretty true to the original,' Kunze says. 'But they have taken some liberties with things like costumes and sets to make it more interesting and bring it up to date.'

Kunze isn't surprised that 'Jesus Christ Superstar' continues to hold its position as the fifth-longest running musical in the history of London's West End. (It lost the top spot to three other Lloyd Webber productions: 'Cats,' 'Starlight Express' and 'Phantom of the Opera').

'This is one of the most powerful things they've done,' Kunze says of the Lloyd Webber and Rice team and the show's enduring appeal. 'The music has found a whole new generation of listeners; it's really stood the test of time. I also think that what they say about the show is true: It is one of the greatest stories ever told.'

Once banned in South Africa for being irreligious, the show continues to inspire protests wherever it goes.

'The show brings its share of controversy with it; we always have a couple of picketers who haven't bothered to learn the story line,' Kunze says. 'It's not Bible study Ñ it's a theater production.'

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