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Q&A with Apple Valley Native Danny McHugh of the hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar

Aaron LaVigne and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Aaron LaVigne and the company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

Updated: January 18, 2020 09:32 AM

Minnesota native, Danny McHugh is excited to bring Jesus Christ Superstar to The Orpheum Theatre next week as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary. The high-energy production runs Tuesday, Jan. 21 through Sunday, Jan. 26. We had a chance to learn what makes this iconic production so unique and memorable. 

When did your love for acting begin?

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It all started in middle school. I've always liked the movies of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire growing up but it wasn't until a girl that I liked invited me to a tap class when I finally decided, 'Ok, yeah. Let's try it.' I was maybe 14-years-old. Tap dancing was my gateway to everything else. I started taking other kinds of dance and voice lessons and it just so happens that East View had a really amazing Arts program with amazing teachers and new facilities -- I was only the second freshman class to be part of the school. It had great funding and that helped foster my love for it. It was all that I wanted to do. The environment that the school and teachers set up was very welcoming and felt very safe and I could truly be myself, be creative and not have to sensor myself. That was wonderful. 

(McHugh was referring to East View High School in Apple Valley where he graduated from) 

From there I went to Steven's Point, (University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point) for one year and then auditioned for a production of Cats at Chanhassen Dinner Theater. I was 19 and it was my first opportunity to be in a professional show and I wasn't quite certain at that point that I wanted to pursue it professionally so I thought well an eight-month run of Cats will show if I'm cut out for this and I ended up loving it so I went back to school to finish my degree. I decided that was great but let's go get better, I knew there was more for me to learn. I've been working professionally ever since and going wherever work has taken me -- to cruise ships, regional theater, Vegas, I was part of The Blue Man Group, national tours and livin' the life of a gypsy. 

Note: National tours Rock of Ages (Drew), White Christmas (Jimmy). Off-Broadway: Blue Man Group (Blue Man). Regional credits: Floyd Collins (Floyd), BAZ in Las Vegas (Christian), Singin in the Rain (Don Lockwood). Princess Cruises: McHugh worked with Stephen Schwartz as Pip in Magic To Do. 

Will this be your first off-Broadway show you'll be a part of in the Twin Cities?

It is not, I was fortunate enough to play the lead in Rock of Ages back in 2012. We played The Orpheum and my sister Megan was also in the show with me so we actually both got to perform in our hometown which was super special. She's taking a break for now, she lives in Blaine with her husband and three children so I'll have two weeks off after this run where I plan to spend lots of time with family. 

What are you looking forward to most while being back home?

Seeing my family and friends. Being on the road and my home base is pretty much New York City now with my wife and two cats but being able to be home for even two weeks seems really long. My mom and step-dad are up in Coon Rapids. My dad is in Eau Claire. My sister is in Blaine. My best friend ever since middle school is still there too so I'll spend a lot of time with him and then my wife will also fly out to spend time with me too. 

Any must-do's while you're home?

Yes, The Wedge Co-op is a really amazing place for lunch and dessert. Oh my gosh, there's a lot. I'm excited to show people The Walker Sculpture Garden, even in the winter it's really cool. I'm also looking forward to showing people around Uptown, going to Chino Latino; Burrito Loco in Dinkytown. There's lots of random haunts from college and also doing theater in the Twin Cities area that I'm excited to go to. I might go to this new thing called The Ice Castles, that looks cool! 

How do you stay fit or even unwind while on the road?

This show is the most athletic dancing I have ever done. It is designed to be that way. Our choreographer took inspiration from very contemporary and ritualistic movement in that people used to dance themselves to exhaustion to be closer to their God and the endorphins would be released. They wanted to keep that genuine so when we're panting for breath on stage at the end of numbers we are not acting exhausted we absolutely are. It's intense. So as far as cardio goes, I rely on the show for that. 

We do like to take care of our bodies the best we can. We try to look for deals on massages but besides that if there's rock climbing or a good bike path or something that the area is noted for then the cast will seek out those day adventures. 

What is your role in Jesus Christ Superstar?

Due to an injury of another cast member, I am now in the show full-time now which is very rare for a Swing to get to do. Right now the plan once we get to town is for me to play the Third Priest for the entire run so I will be dancing my face off in the ensemble as well as have a little feature with Caiaphas and the other priests. 

What is your favorite song or scene? 

I am a massive fan-boy of this show and the concept of this show. The title number of "Superstar" just because the movement happening there juxtaposed against what is happening to Jesus in that moment is really fascinating and it's moving. I really appreciate not only doing it but when I get to sit in the house and actually watch it too.  

Total run time is 90 minutes, full speed ahead. What are your thoughts on not having an intermission? 

Sure is! Actually, when I did it at Chanhassen Dinner Theater we had the intermission and that's all that I knew but our director Tim Sheader wanted to not have the momentum of the story cut off by an intermission so instead of there being a lull, bathroom break or you get another drink, the entire thing just builds and builds until you know what the climax is. I think it's really effective for the crowd as well as the ensemble dancing because we don't have a chance for our bodies to cool off at all, we just go full speed ahead. 

What is so special/different from this run?

I think what is so special about the concept for this musical is the reason for the inspiration for this particular production is the original concept album known as The Brown Album and this show goes back to those roots of it being a rock concert. Leads will be on microphones and have mic stands and there are featured soloists in the band that will be in costume and come out and perform. It really is a rock concert combined with a contemporary dance concert with feverish and athletic movement of this mob that tells the story physically along with the leads. 

What can the audience member who might not be familiar with the story expect?

They can expect this timeless story to be told in a new and exciting way. It is high energy. If you want to hear amazing rock music sung fantastically then this is the show for you?

Any advice for aspiring actors? 

The theater world is incredibly and surprisingly small, so even a reputation of being a hard worker and easy to work with will take you a long way. I know people who are astronomically talented that don't get a lot of work because they don't have a great reputation so besides working really hard and being good to work with, never stop learning. There is always someone out there who is better than you but remember to be humble. Keep exploring your own craft and your own talent and try to never stop learning and growing because that will carry you into new areas of your career that you never thought you would go into. 

What do you see yourself doing in 10-15+ years from now? 

I really enjoy teaching so that might be a path that I go down some point. Probably tap dance as it was my first love. Very far removed from what I'm doing in this show. Also, I have a massive love for making costumes not only for Halloween but do you know what Cosplay is? That's kind of a hobby to give myself a project even when I'm on the road I'm able to think about new costumes to build for fun or sometimes for Halloween. In 2019 I was my own ghost (laughs)...cuz right now I have a big burly beard and I used that and made my own gray scale black and white ghost of myself. 

Celebrating the 50th anniversary, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR returns to its rock roots – the original concept album (commonly known as The Brown Album, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera) which was named Billboard's Album of the Year on the pop charts in 1971. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final days in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Judas. The legendary score includes hits like  "I Don't Know How to Love Him," "Gethsemane" and the unforgettable "Superstar."

Jesus Christ Superstar runs at The Orpheum in Minneapolis from Tuesday January 21 through Sunday January 26. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. 

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