Jesus Christ Superstar

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:32 AM

As I noted last night, I just had the pleasure of seeing the Muny production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It would be stating the obvious to say this was a bit different from Grease. Unlike my commentary on that a few weeks ago, in which I had a hard time pointing out non-objectionable parts of it, there is very little to object to in Weber's “rock opera” and a lot to appreciate.

As is the case for anyone dealing with Christ's passion, especially someone attempting to tell the story in a non-traditional way, Weber took some risks. It doesn't therefore surprise me that the musical was controversial when it came out. Jesus' humanity is emphasized over His divinity, even He seem to almost doubt His nature, but as a whole, Judas seems to suggest Jesus takes an active role in letting people call Him God, which is a far more noticeable recognition of Jesus as a willing recipient of that title than the minor comments made by Jesus that may suggest the opposite. That is, Weber and Rice do not run with the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God, unlike — yes, Mark, I'm sure you're waiting for this — Dan Brown.

As a whole, the musical provided a powerful portrayal of the last week before the crucifixion in such a jarringly different way that it actually amplified some parts, rather than diminishing them. I appreciate the perspective of Judas, something that the Gospels do not provide for us, but have rather left us to imagine for ourselves. I generally believe that suggesting Judas did the deed exclusively for the 30 pieces of silver is an oversimplification. Perhaps he did think he was helping Jesus, or at least keeping Jesus from causing more “harm” to His followers, as the Judas in the play suggests. (I've often leaned more on the idea that perhaps, like Simon the Zealot, he might have been looking for a — well — zealous removal of the Romans and was trying to force it to happen.)

The lack of a resurrection scene was a bit disappointing.

What I'd really like to mention again, though, is the actors themselves. The actor playing Jesus put in a superb performance, particularly in the temple scene's piercing cry. Judas, in my opinion, stole the show with an absolutely stellar performance; the actor playing Judas had the voice to tackle some very difficult songs and he did so powerfully (I think notably better than the singer on the official Superstar soundtrack). His voice was powerful and clear, even when he was hunched over. The man playing Herod, who apparently is no stranger to the Muny, also put in a marvelous performance that showed he felt entirely at home on this stage, and the actress playing Mary Magdalene had an excellent voice with a slight hint of a country music singer in it.

My major complaint, if it can be considered one, is that the majority of the music in this play was not memorable on its own. As a whole, the play was excellent, but unlike some other musicals (perhaps, to an extent, even Grease), it lacked the stand alone songs that otherwise might stick in my head. Meredith Wilson's the Music Man, which I enjoyed at the Muny last year, left me with such notable tunes as Marian the Librarian, Lida Rose, Good Night, My Someone, You Got Trouble and, of course, Seventy-Six Trombones stuck in constant rotation in my head for sometime after seeing it and they remain in fairly frequent “shuffle” there (not to mention on my iPod; I own the original broadway soundtrack of it now).

With a musical, I suppose one can seek two different things: music or a story. Ideally, the play will provide both. Superstar does, but, ironically, I think the fact that all of the words are set to music does actually weaken its music outside of the story.

Still, I'd be tempted to go back to the Muny and sit in the free seats to hear it again, if it wasn't quite so long of drive to go there.

Rating: ***1/2

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
I love the songs from this show and for me they are memorable. I have been known to break out in song and perform the last supper. As per the norm, I shall have to contain my own singing. Here's hoping that it doesn't rain tonight, the tickets have been purchased!
Posted by Christopher - Jul 16, 2005 | 4:56 PM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
I probably should have worded that differently. They are very good, but perhaps you'd have to see it several times before they'd stick since they are fairly long and a bit more like dialogue. I think a lot of musicals, since they do have normal dialogue inbetween, provide songs that stick in my head faster. I did like these songs, though. :) I too must contain my singing -- I don't want to scare anyone away!
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 16, 2005 | 8:32 PM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
Did Judas wear purple spandex?
Posted by kevin - Jul 17, 2005 | 3:05 AM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
I don't think it was spandex. But, it was orange with something that looked like a flame pattern on his shoulders (as best as I could make it out). :)
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 17, 2005 | 4:39 AM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
Did I read you right -- free seats? How did I miss that memo?!
Posted by Kelbe - Jul 18, 2005 | 5:18 AM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
You hadn't heard about the free seats? The Muny has something like 1,200 of them. You just show up and get them: first come, first serve. I didn't personally sit in them -- they are way at the top of the seats, as far away from the stage as possible. But, still, for the price... :)
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 19, 2005 | 5:32 AM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
I sat in the free seats once. Pressed's car got stolen so the free seats are jinxed for me. You can be over 5 feet tall to sit in those seats comfortably.
Posted by Christopher - Jul 19, 2005 | 12:26 PM

Re: Jesus Christ Superstar
:eek: I so wanted to go see Superstar but wasn't willing to pay (cheap college student showing through).. maybe I'll go for one of the other shows this season and avoid joining the stolen car club.
Posted by Kelbe - Jul 20, 2005 | 12:11 AM

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