Christ proved to rise again on Easter, April 1, in an all-new production of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1971 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which aired on NBC.
Starring a host of musical talents — including John Legend, Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper — the broadcast has set a new precedent for live musicals, upping the ante in production, performance and reception quality.
“Superstar”’s story is fairly straightforward; it tells the story of the last days of Jesus Christ (John Legend) before his crucifixion. However, instead of characterizing Jesus as a greater, all-knowing power, his emotional humanity, psychology and fears are explored.
We see the majority of the action as narrated by Judas Iscariot (Brandon Victor Dixon), one of Jesus’s original
apostles turned betrayer. His interactions with Judas, Mary Magdalene, masterfully sung and portrayed by Sara Bareilles, Pontius Pilate (Ben Daniels) and various other followers, non-believers and cripples show Jesus’ psyche deteriorating as his time on Earth draws to a close.
Legend’s vocal power was fully displayed in his title role as Jesus Christ. His soaring falsetto flew over the live audience, sending them spiraling into a frenzy.
While maybe not fully committed to the acting portion of the production, any faults of Legend’s were swiftly overshadowed by his magnificent and awe-inspiring vocal talent.
Equally as powerful was Dixon’s nuanced and layered portrayal of Judas.
Dixon is a Broadway talent with mainstream credibility, just having recently finished a run as Aaron Burrin the smash hit “Hamilton.” (Dixon famously told off Vice President Mike Pence when he attended a November 2016 performance of the musical.)
Dixon’s acting was pitch-perfect, encapsulating the moral agony Judas faces after handing Jesus over to
the Romans. His Act I opener “Heaven On Their Minds” started the show at a 10 and refused to let the audience come up for air.
Softer and more subdued in nature was Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, the original hooker with a heart of gold. Bareilles’ unique voice cooed and soothed Legend’s Jesus, as well as the audience.
It’s only a shame that her character is not given more to do in her time onstage.
Overall, the production excelled where NBC’s other live musicals have faltered— a tightly assembled cast, groundbreaking set design and wonderful music were incorporated with grace, making the production standout from other endeavors, like 2013’s “The Sound of Music Live!” or “Hairspray Live!” in 2016.
“Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert” is currently streaming on Hulu.
Photo from Brit + Co.