NEW ORLEANS -- Ben Forster, a 33-year-old British actor, was preparing for the biggest break of his career as he rehearsed the title role for an ambitious arena tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that was to have its first performance here at the Lakefront Arena on June 9.
That was Thursday. On Friday Forster, an ensemble of celebrity performers, and a cast and crew of about 300 learned that they were all out of work. The tour, which was to play more than 50 cities in North America over the summer, was canceled without warning or explanation.
"For me, it was the American dream about to happen," Forster said in an interview on Friday night. "What’s that Miley Cyrus song, ‘Wrecking Ball’? I feel like someone just came in and took a big wrecking ball to the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ tour."
This tour’s high-profile promoter, Michael Cohl, who has mainly worked with rock groups like U2 and the Rolling Stones and was a lead producer of the problem-plagued Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," said Saturday that ticket sales did not support the tour.
This latest production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera about the final days of Jesus was announced with fanfare in April, including a news conference in New York and a performance on ABC’s "Good Morning America."
The cast featured an eclectic mix of rock and pop performers in the principal roles, including the Incubus lead singer, Brandon Boyd, as Judas Iscariot; Michelle Williams, of the R&B group Destiny’s Child, as Mary Magdalene; JC Chasez of ‘N Sync as Pontius Pilate; and John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, as King Herod.
The aggressive itinerary included stops at 18,000- to 20,000-seat theaters like Madison Square Garden in New York and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with top ticket prices of about $125.
In April, Cohl said that total costs were in the range of "eight figures" and that the tour would need to take in "several hundred thousand dollars" each night to keep it afloat.
As recently as Thursday, cast members like Boyd and Forster were working in New Orleans with director Laurence Connor (a director of the current Broadway revival of "Les Misirables"); Lydon was being fitted for his King Herod costume and making his first attempts at rehearsing his character’s sarcastic ragtime number.
The next morning, Forster and Chasez were rehearsing with Connor when the show’s general manager entered the studio. Describing what happened next, Forster said, "He was like: ‘Guys, take a break. We need to chat. It’s not going to happen.’" At this point, in his recollection, Forster simply gasped.
Ed Rubinstein, the chief executive of ArenaNetwork, a company that helps book entertainment acts into performance spaces, said he saw no indication of any advance problems with the "Jesus Christ Superstar" tour.
Others in the industry questioned whether American audiences would be interested in the lineup.
"None of these performers would appear to have the box office clout to ensure robust ticket sales," wrote George Varga, a pop music critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune.