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RIS at Jesus Christ Superstar

Somtow Sucharitkul, once distinguished as “the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world” by The International Herald Tribune, is an internationally acclaimed musical composer and award-winning sci-fi/fantasy author.  His novel The Bird Catcher was awarded a World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade for fantasy literature, and his 53 books have sold an estimated two million copies worldwide. 

As an artist, Somtow is also the first recipient of the Silpathorn Award, a highly distinguished honor from the Ministry of Culture for any Thai artist who has made a profound impact on the region’s culture. More recently in 2017, Somtow won the European Award for Cultural Achievement from Kultur-Forum Europa, being the first Asian artist to do so. He is heralded as a cultural ambassador and champion of international diversity through his establishment of meaningful cultural connections between Thailand and Europe. 

Somtow is currently the Music Director of the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Siam Sinfonietta youth orchestra. As the Artistic Director for Opera Siam, he recently directed a fully-staged symphonic version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar—the first officially licensed Thai production of the classic musical—at the Thailand Cultural Center. 

Somtow’s version of Jesus Christ Superstar has been noted for his casting of three lead actors coming from different religious backgrounds. “[It] seemed to be some kind of sign showing the world that in this time of dissension and divisiveness in the world, we in Thailand are able to work together in mutual harmony and love,” he says. “It is a small message from a small country, but it is heartfelt.”

Somtow was particularly keen to invite the RIS community to the performances held on February 1 and 2. Because he briefly attended Ruamrudee for two terms in the sixties before continuing his studies in England, it is often overlooked that Somtow is an alumnus of RIS. Some of his earliest writings can even be found in the school’s very first Student Annual, dated 1965-1966, where he is credited as Cookie Sucharitkul. He even admits to have drawn from his time at RIS as inspiration for a scene in one of his novels. 

Over the course of the show’s limited run, the performances were attended by enthusiastic members of RIS facultyalumni and the Redemptorists in Thailand, including newly-elected Provincial Father Michael Picharn Jaiseri, school director Father Joseph Apisit Kritsaralam, and Father Joe Maier of the Mercy Centre of Thailand.  Somtow was particularly delighted to have been reunited with Father Leo Travis whom he fondly remembers from his RIS days in the sixties. 

Jesus Christ Superstar was a controversial work when it first emerged 49 years ago, [but] today’s vantage point is a very different one,” says Somtow of the production. “I’ve tried to create a version with respect for those who believe—and with awareness of the history of the period—which still allows nonbelievers to find within the work a story of love, betrayal, tragedy and redemption—a universal story. [Composer Andrew Llloyd] Webber was right in labelling this a rock opera, not a musical. It does what all great operas do—transcend its time.”