Fifteen years ago, a long-haired, wild-eyed Sebastian Bach stalked the stage of LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center, urging his young crowd to join him in the chant "F--k authority!" Since then, the singer has changed his tune considerably, even if the hair is still long and the eyes are still wild.
Bach's gone Broadway and -- in a transformation arguably rivaled only by Paul's on the road to Damascus -- resolved whatever problems he's had with the powers that be. In fact, with two previous Broadway outings under his belt, he's been playing one of the biggest authority figures of all time on stages across America, eight shows a week, since November 2002. He is Jesus Christ (not-so-superstar) in the touring production of the ever-popular Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber show.
"Going from Skid Row to Broadway is a real reinvention, I would think," Bach understates, speaking by telephone from a Cincinnati hotel room. No one is more surprised than the 34-year-old himself.
After making a big splash and enjoying a pretty good run in the very late '80s and very early '90s, Bach's band Skid Row hit the pop-chart skids. His musical career has continued with less well-known bands (The Last Hard Men, Sebastian Bach and Friends), and he's managed to maintain a profile with periodic MTV appearances and a hosting gig on VH1. But the dynamic lead singer and his ear-shattering vocal range have come dangerously close to permanent residence in that overpopulated purgatory of once-hot has-beens. Then, divine intervention.
In 2000, Bach's label, Atlantic Records, was assisting labelmate Frank Wildhorn (composer of such Broadway shows as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Civil War) in his search for a rock 'n' roller to step into the lead role of Jekyll & Hyde. "I was like, 'What? You're calling me?'" Bach recalls, his laughter hinting at the octaves he regularly owns. But his four-month run in the show was a revelation to the spotlight-hungry star.
"I bring a certain energy that isn't normally found on the Broadway stage," says Bach, who went on to star as Riff Raff in Broadway's Rocky Horror Picture Show. "I have a rock 'n' roll energy or spirit. I don't even know what that means, what I'm saying, but when I see myself on TV or something, I definitely see it."
You can hear it, too. Wildhorn reportedly transposed Jekyll & Hyde songs into a higher key in order to make full use of Bach's vocal abilities. That wasn't really necessary for Jesus Christ Superstar, where the title role was written for Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, a man Bach calls "a definite heavy metal screamer."
"At certain parts of the show, I'm always told that less is more," Bach says. "Sometimes I overdo things because it's my nature. I do have to very consciously concentrate on being calm and not too hyper."
But, he quickly adds, "It's a rock opera so they better have some rock in it. It gets really heavy in Act Two. Just when you think it's like really a nice, nice play and everything, it just takes the worst turn. Wow. Unbelievable. So there are parts of the show where I do get to let it out. I get to take the car out for a real drive on this one."
If the vocals provide a challenge, getting into character, Bach says, doesn't. "I don't really like talking about it, but my dad died on Aug. 28," Bach says. (Despite his averred aversion, this is a theme he has returned to repeatedly in press interviews.) "Jesus is singing to his father in heaven, and Sebastian Bach is singing to his father. I'm singing to God, and I'm singing to my Dad. This is like a mourning for me, doing this. I get to sing onstage every night to him, for my fans. This is all to my dad and Jesus. If that doesn't get you through, what's gonna?"
It helps, of course, that Bach is joined onstage by Carl Anderson, the 59-year-old actor known for creating the role of Judas for the stage as well as for the Norman Jewison's 1973 film starring Ted Neely. "You couldn't imagine how incredible he sings," says Bach, who only the night before threw a cast-and-crew surprise birthday party for Anderson in his hotel room. "Such an inspiration to be onstage with a guy that talented. It lets you know that if you sing properly your voice just gets better and better and better with age. I love the guy."
According to Bach, the tour was recently extended through March 2004 and ranked as the No. 1 touring production in the country in terms of box office by Variety. "I think it's maybe striking a chord at this point and time," he offers, "because of the war happening and all this crazy stuff that we're going through with terrorism. I think subconsciously -- or maybe consciously -- people are coming because they might need to touch base with this parable. I mean, sending troops overseas, we all need to pray, you know. Definitely."
At one point in the interview, Bach cautions that he doesn't want to give away the end of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Dude. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.
- Sebastian Bach "takes the car out for a real drive" as the title character in Jesus Christ Superstar.