Jesus Christ Superstar, originally a rock-opera from the 70s, follows the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. Mostly focusing on the character of Judas, this musical tries to delve into the motives and thought processes of the characters.
Judas is becoming more and more dissatisfied with the direction that Jesus is taking his disciples in and worries that all the attention he is attracting will have negative consequences. Mary Magdalene tries to keep everyone calm, but she just angers Judas more because he thinks a woman in her profession should not associate with Jesus. Meanwhile, Caiaphas and the other priests meet to discuss what they think should be done to handle the situation. They all come to the conclusion that Jesus must die. Jesus becomes more and more disheartened as he begins to feel that his disciples don’t truly understand what he represents and believes that everyone will forget him once he is dead. He goes back to the temple to see it turned into a house of sin and debauchery. Jesus tells all those that wish to profit to leave and then is bombarded by the sick to heal them. Mary Magdalene comes to his side to console him and put him to sleep. While Jesus is sleeping, she acknowledges the fact that she has fallen deeply in love with Jesus. Judas, reaching his breaking point, goes to the other priests and betrays Jesus’ location to them. Judas is sure to explain that his motives are selfless, he just worries that Jesus is leading his followers down the wrong path.
At the Last Supper, Jesus is annoyed with his apostles and tells them that he knows one will deny him (Peter) and one has betrayed him (Judas). Judas confronts Jesus and calls him reckless. After the confrontation, Judas immediately leaves to go get the Roman guard. After all the apostles fall asleep Jesus begins to talk to god, telling him he is tired and there is nothing more he can do. Jesus asks god to not let him suffer the fate in front of him but, receiving no answer, realizes the he must submit to the will of god. Judas arrives and points out Jesus to the guards and they try to take Jesus away. Waking the apostles, they try to fight off the guard but Jesus tells them to let the guards take him. As the guards are dragging Jesus to Caiaphas, the mob (represented by modern news reporters) wants to know what Jesus’ plan is.
Judas, begininning to feel guilty for the part he played comes to the conclusion that God used him as a pawn to start the crucifixion of Jesus. Judas does not take the epiphany well and decides to hang himself from a tree. At the trial of Jesus, Pilate asks the crowd to provide reasoning why Jesus should be put to death. Pilate believed Jesus should just be imprisoned but the crowd is relentless. They proceed to whip Jesus but the crowd is still not satisfied.
As Jesus prepares to be crucified, the spirit of Judas begins to mock him. Judas questions the motive and manner of Jesus’ arrival and if things could have had a different outcome. Jesus, after reciting his final words and commending his spirit to God, slowly dies on the cross. Mourning the death of Jesus, Mary and the other apostles begin to reflect the impact that Jesus had on their lives.
I was completely blown away by this production. Everything from the cast to the set to the vocals were just incredible. John Legend’s vocal range took my breath away. His voice could be both powerful and soft, high and then low. He was perfectly cast as Jesus and I loved every second of it. Brandon Victor Dixon was absolutely phenomenal as Judas. His voice was gruffer, less polished than Jesus and that really helped to convey their differences. When Judas sang ‘Judas’ Death’ and Brandon Victor Dixon broke down and reiterated Mary’s song of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” I was completely speechless. How many of us have gone through a similar experience of religious turmoil? Of not knowing what or who to believe in and doubting our decisions? That feeling was perfectly captured in that moment. I also loved the attention to detail when Judas comes back in head to toe silver. It really reinforced his betrayal for the pieces of silver, although I’m sure it could be interpreted a million other ways as well.
I do have to say that the highlight of the entire show, for me, was Alice Cooper playing the role of King Herod. I am not afraid to admit to the fact that Alice Cooper was my very first crush. I remember being about 6 years old when my mother played the Halloween episode of The Muppets where he was a guest star and it truly sealed my fate. So to see him play this vital character and still be able to rock out was just incredible.
I adored the diversity at every point throughout the musical. The apostles, only ever really being portrayed as white men, were men and women of all ethnicities. I also loved the modernization of the musical. At one point members of the mob were holding up iPhones to record Jesus being carted away and it was such a nice touch.
Out of all the live television specials so far, this has to be one of my favorites. It was able to capture the magic of the theater and translate it to the small screen in a way that few of the other specials have been able to achieve. Jesus Christ Superstar, starring John Legend, has truly raised the bar and I am anxious to see what they come up with next.