Student playwright takes heavy metal twist

'Moses Superstar' on tap at festival

June 3, 2009

Alex Skanavis was watching "The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston, when it happened.

In a moment of epiphany, Skanavis muted the movie's sound and replaced it with "Jerusalem," an hour-long song by the metal band Sleep.

The Wauwatosa East High School senior had been searching for an epic way to mark the 10th anniversary of the school's student play festival. Five years ago, students created a zombie opera. It is still talked about. Skanavis needed a way to one-up singing zombies, and he found it.

The mood of the slow, low, chugging guitars in "Jerusalem" seemed designed to accompany the story of Moses, he said.

"It fit the intensity and the attitudes of the characters and what was going on," Skanavis said.

"(The story is) about a destiny, a vengeance against something (Moses) was chosen to rebel against, and that's something I think that metal captures quite well."

Inspired by a love for heavy metal music and the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar," Skanavis spent the next month writing. His final product, a three-act metal opera called "Moses Superstar," will be performed this weekend during the 10th annual Wauwatosa East High School Student Play Festival.

Obviously, the play will be more than a little different from "Jesus Christ Superstar."

"Jesus sang like a righteous rock star," Skanavis said. "Moses is more vindictive."

The play mostly follows the story of Moses found in the Bible, though Skanavis said he took some liberties. For one, there's no parting of the Red Sea. Also, Skanavis' Moses borrows one-liners from famous action movies, like the Terminator's "Come with me if you want to live."

Music in the play - spanning decades and genres - will be performed by student rock band Ahab's Ghost and other students. Some songs are covers with lyrics rewritten to fit the context of the story, and others are original compositions by Ahab's Ghost. Most of the music, though, is metal.

Skanavis said he sees himself as something of a metal missionary to area theater-goers.

"I thought the best way to introduce metal to the community would be with a story that everyone is familiar with," he said.

However, "Moses Superstar" is one of only five plays that will be performed at the festival. For those who are metal-averse, there will be plenty of other entertainment, all written, directed and performed by East students.


WHAT: Wauwatosa East High School Student Play Festival

WHERE: Wauwatosa East High School auditorium, 7500 Milwaukee Ave.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

COST: $5 suggested donation

CONTACT: school office, (414) 773-2000


For more information about Ahab's Ghost, or to listen to the band's music, visit


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