TORONTO - As he took his opening-night bow with his "Jesus Christ Superstar" castmates and creators Thursday night on Broadway, Ontario-raised Aaron Walpole was struck by the serendipity that led him to that moment.
"My career's kind of come full circle already," Walpole said by phone Friday morning, noting it was an Easter Weekend TV broadcast of the musical film "Jesus Christ Superstar" he watched at age 10 that inspired him to become a performer.
"That afternoon I learned the whole show and then the next day learned another show and it started everything for me," said Walpole, who was born in London, Ont., and raised in St. Thomas, Ont.
"And for this to be my first Broadway musical, and to have a lead contract in it too, it's honestly a dream come true."
Walpole plays high priest Annas in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production, which was a critical and box-office hit at the southwestern Ontario repertory theatre last summer. In November, it moved to San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse before shifting to Broadway.
Paul Nolan stars as Jesus in the electrifying rock opera that's helmed by Tony Award-winning Stratford festival artistic director Des McAnuff. Chilina Kennedy plays Mary Magdalene and Josh Young plays Judas Iscariot.
Notables at the Neil Simon Theatre for Thursday's opening included actors Ben Vereen and Eddie Izzard, and comedian Tim Minchin, who gave Walpole a "big hug" backstage.
Show creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice joined the cast onstage for the bow, and the cast partied afterwards at the Hilton hotel.
"It didn't actually hit me that this was such a spectacular and such a big opening, and just such a huge moment in my life, until the very end when we were bowing with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice, and Des came up onstage too," said Walpole.
McAnuff's version of "JCS" explores what he's called a "love triangle" between Jesus, Mary and Judas. The set and costumes celebrate the rock element, with stadium-like metal and leather everywhere, along with LED displays.
Since the San Diego run, they've added a treadmill onstage and had to downsize the set to accommodate the smaller theatre, said Walpole. They've also done some technical, choreography and spacing tweaks.
Though McAnuff's been busy juggling "JCS" with several other productions, he's given his full attention to the cast, said Walpole.
"He's kind of like a football coach," noted the former "Canadian Idol" finalist, who's acted at the Stratford fest for several seasons.
"He gives us little pep talks and stuff, so just before opening night we had a bit of a pep talk too about just trying to get us to stay grounded."
Since the show's been in New York, fans have flocked to the backstage doors every night to get the stars' autographs, said Walpole.
At Thursday's opening, "the crowd went nuts for the show," said Walpole, one of four Sheridan College theatre graduates in the "JCS" production.
"It was the best audience we've had to date."
Walpole said he's fallen in love with New York, especially the giant Reuben sandwiches at Carnegie Deli and the huge "JCS" billboard in Times Square. For his 33rd birthday earlier this month, he and his cast members went to three pubs in the city.
"My Jesus year. That's what everybody's calling it when you turn 33," said Walpole.
"Paul Nolan, who plays Jesus, is 33 too, which is pretty cool."
Walpole is subletting an apartment in Queens until November, at which point he figures he'll know the fate of the show on the Great White Way.
"We're still worried about it," he said. "We have to worry about it because opening night, no matter how amazing the audience is on opening night, you never know how long the show is going to go.
"There have been shows on Broadway that have had spectacular reviews and big standing ovations on opening night, and then they've folded a month later. And there have been shows that haven't done well on opening night and haven't had great reviews that have gone on for years.
"You never really know. We can only take it a week at a time."