At the conclusion of my four-day holiday weekend, I sat on my couch in a food coma, with candy wrappers scattered along the floor from the early-afternoon Easter festivities, in anticipation of NBC’s live telecast of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” From the initial sound of the first violinist and the artistic display of red and white lighting to the chaotic dancers who took the floor in an energetic flow of dance sequences, I knew the next two-hours and 20 minutes were going to be an intensely satisfying conclusion to my Easter celebration.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It originally debuted in 1970 as a rock opera album, before taking Broadway in 1971 where it was nominated for five Tonys. The musical tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life, where Jesus is played by the unmatched musical genius, John Legend. NBC had a plethora of renowned artists integrated in the musical, which was performed live at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Brooklyn, N.Y. According to the New York Times, “the show averaged 9.4 million viewers, putting it ahead of all other original telecasts for the night — including CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ and ABC’s ‘American Idol.’”
As the show opens, apostle Judas (Brandon Victor Dixon – best known as Aaron Burr in the Tony-winning Hamilton) is growing concerned that Jesus’ followers will be perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire. Priest Caiaphas (Norm Lewis) is accompanied by other priests who come to the conclusion that Jesus must be killed. Later, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and finds a temple filled with merchants and money lenders. Jesus is encapsulated by a flood of people needing his help. He then tells them to heal themselves and his confidante Mary Magdalene (Sara Bareilles) has to calm him down – as she does sporadically throughout the musical.
The duet, “Everything’s Alright” performed by Bareilles and Legend was beautifully executed. Bareilles’ naturally soulful voice carried the duet, and her gentle acting toward Legend was seamless. Bareilles provided viewers with a new view of Mary Magdalene, transforming the perception of Mary as a prostitute to Mary as a gentle-hearted, independent, beautiful woman who provides Jesus with a combination of comfort and peace.
Judas, fearing the movement is getting out of Jesus’ control, goes to the Romans and tells them Jesus will be in the Garden of Gethsemane the following night. He receives 30 pieces of silver as payment. This Broadway star is no apprentice to the stage. Dixon’s performance as Judas was flawless and deeply believable. It’s unclear as to whether his acting or my preconceived view of Dixon that ultimately had me feeling sorry for Judas. Dixon’s performance had me saying “don’t do it, Judas!” about 20 different times throughout the night.
But alas, as we all know, at the Garden Judas arrives with Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus by kissing him on the cheek. Jesus is arrested and sent to Caiaphas and King Herod (Alice Cooper) who condemns him to death on the cross. The way Jesus was crucified was done so in a brilliant manner. Legend was actually suspended in midair while tied to cross, which continued to raise higher and higher until it reached its pinnacle. From there the cross began moving backward into the distance until it was replaced by a glowing light. The vision was exceptional.
In a time that can easily be swept up in the chaos of opening candy, playing with new toys and cooking extravagant meals, “Jesus Christ Superstar” offers viewers the chance to reflect on the true meaning of Easter, while providing them with a glance as to how this story is still relevant today.