Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite works of musical theatre ever produced, and I must say I was very excited about a new revival of the production being done. This was not the first and probably not the last revival either.
Jesus Christ Superstar began, interestingly enough, as a rock album and a rock concert. Starting in July of 1971 it played in huge arenas all across America. It tells the last seven days of Jesus’ life. By the time it debuted on Broadway, the self proclaimed “rock opera” was an extravagant show with laser beams, smoke, wind machines, and a 70‘s look. Needless to say a new version was in serious need of an update.
With this production it has received just that, a 21st century look. Jesus starts out the show in a white tank top and cargo pants. The apostles are not equipped with knives, but assault weapons. They are dressed in leather jackets, combat gear and shades. Graffiti is sprayed all over the sets with catchphrases of freedom and religious messages. Next we see the Jewish priests not dressed in religious robes, but in what resembles riot gear. This production brings some of today’s modern problems to the stage. The obsession with celebrity is shown in the show's final musical number that features Judas in a red lather jacket surrounded by scantily clad women singing of the reasons for Jesus' choices. All the while throngs of reporters clamber to document the proceedings and project a video of Jesus on a big screen while he carries the cross on the way to his execution. Jesus' flogging is shown in all it's agony as the ensemble slap him with red paint and makeup with each lash, and by the end he is bloody and bruised.
One of the reasons I have really enjoyed this show is the way the characters are portrayed. Above all things they are human. It is so easy to see these characters as static and two dimensional, but Lloyd Webber and Rice's writing make them jump off the page into three dimensional fallible characters. For me Judas is the most stunning. I personally have always wondered what his motivation was for betraying Jesus. Was it Satan’s work or simply greed. In here he is very worried and scared about what is becoming of Jesus and his message. How did their group go from a few followers to a mass following and how has Jesus become a superstar, as the title suggest. He is so distraught by his decisions that he eventually hangs himself. Jesus is seen as being very human. He has doubts about why he is the one that has to make the sacrifice. In the song, "Gethsemane I only want to say," this doubt is shown. I believe this song is the best song ever written for a musical. It is so beautiful and tragic, and gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.
For these characters to work, the actors have to take some responsibility as well. Glenn Carter stars a Jesus. He has just the right look and just the right squealing ability that the music requires. Tony Vincent was a last minute replacement for the character of Judas. That is a good thing because he is the best Judas I have ever heard or seen. His voice is amazing. With his blond spiky hair he has just the right attitude to play Judas. Maya Days plays Mary Magdalene so sweetly that it is no wonder Jesus had a soft spot for her.
As with every other production of the story of Jesus, this one was full of controversy. There were those who found the liberties taken with the bible sacrilegious, and there were those who found the role of the Jewish priests to be anti-Semitic. One must remember that this is art and has never been portrayed as the absolute truth, because everyone's truth is their own and not the same.