The Hollywood Hills are probably not what comes to mind upon hearing the word “Iscariot.” But that’s exactly where “ISCARIOT” — an unconventional spin on the biblical narrative of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot premiering Dec. 1 at the Agassiz Theater — takes its audience.
“‘ISCARIOT’ is a heretical gaysian love story — gaysian being a portmanteau of gay and Asian,” said Sophie H. Kim ’24, the show’s executive producer and the author of the book.
The musical, conceptualized by Kim in fall of 2021 and partially inspired by a meme on Tumblr, reimagines Judas Iscariot as a queer Asian American high school senior who falls in love with Jesus, betrays him, and learns to take control of his own narrative.
“Jesus and Judas are high school seniors at a fancy high school in Hollywood. They are both kind of outsiders in the preppy club of the Disciples. They team up to win prom king and then shenanigans ensue. There’s a betrayal. There’s a crucifixion,” Kim said.
“It is just a show about a boy finding himself, losing himself, and then finding himself again in the process,” said Maddie Sebastian, a Berklee College of Music student playing Judas Iscariot.
“It's pretty much ‘Wicked’ meets ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’” Kim added.
The comparison should not come as a surprise. Although a student production, “ISCARIOT” has a cast and production team of almost 50, which includes a slew of Berklee College of Music collaborators, and a fully original score accompanied by a ten-person orchestra.
“We have a standard rock band plus strings pit, so we have a keyboard, two drum sets, bass guitar, plus a violin, viola, cello. Something that's not very standard is that you have a trumpet and an oboe, which is very exciting,” said sound designer Devin Wong.
“ISCARIOT”’s commitment to an entertaining plot and quality music-making is somewhat misleading. Although at first glance, the show — set in Hollywood and following high schoolers — might seem like little more than a mashup of Broadway mainstays, the show aims to deliver much more than an enjoyable performance. As the production team emphasizes, there’s much more to the story: It’s as much, if not more, about self-worth, representation, and Asian American identity as it is about Jesus and Judas.
“I was very excited to join because of the message that it was sending: How an Asian-American character can be in the spotlight and take a hold of their own story, which isn't usually seen in regular pop culture,” said co-music director Jennifer G. Arakaki ’26.
Choreographer Adrienne L. Chan ’25 shares the sentiment about the show’s appeal and message. “One of the main messages is about what it means to be the main character or take that space up as a person of color or even even just being Asian-American,” she said.
“ISCARIOT,” Chan said, “has been a really good lesson about reclaiming the space I deserve and also recognizing my own individuality and not allowing the prophecy of the awkward, middle space that Asian-Americans always take up. Not letting that be my destiny.”
As Kim reiterated, neither these themes nor explorations of queer Asian American identity are prominent in popular culture — “certainly,” as said “not on Broadway or regionally or anything, and in very few theater productions” — which makes the show all the more meaningful.
Importantly, although the show uses the Biblical narrative as its canvas, and proudly labels itself as heretical, “it is not heretical,” as Sebastian said
“The message of the show is not that religion sucks, or that God isn't real, or Jesus isn't real. We're not saying any of that. It is merely just a retelling of a work of literary merit,” she added.
Kim concurred, noting the universality of the story of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. “I think that the thing about the story is that … whether you're religious or not, there is something about that narrative of the savior and pariah dichotomy that speaks to almost everyone,” Kim said.
“Even if you're not sure how you might feel about the show or its messaging, you should come to see what I think is a universal story,” she added.
And if you’re already sold, come for the original music and an uplifting narrative of self-worth.
—Staff writer Zachary J. Lech can be reached at email@example.com