Let me be clear…..My career as a critic and producer has been deeply entrenched in film but my love for stage musicals runs deep. All musicals, all genres, when performed “live” on a high level are as good as any film I have seen in a darkened theater.
Sadly, the musicals performed “live” on television have been uneven at best since NBC re-invigorated the genre from “Peter Pan” to “The Wiz” and “The Sound of Music.”
There have been moments of brilliance, as with some of the numbers from “Grease,” and “Hairspray,” but there have been far too many awkward moments of stilted acting, miss-guided casting, and emotional flatness that forces the audience to forgive rather than embrace.
My sights have remained low to average until this past Easter Sunday watching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970’s rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
From the opening guitar riffs to the long scaffold staging something seemed different and highly appealing. There was an energy that made sense and a sense of urgency that invited me in rather than locking me out. Yes at times, the audience was too loud and more of a mosh pit.
And then Judas, Brandon Victor Dixon, started to sing and the heavens opened up with a sense of mystery and guilt, Jesus walked through a wall of light and renewed my faith with John Legend, and Sara Bareilles sang with such clarity and emotional confusion that I finally understood what Mary Magdalene has been thinking all these years.
This is what happens when musical theater stops being an inside job and starts to jump off the stage. Your mind begins to connect the emotional dots, your heart starts to beat to the compliment of the music, and the result is you smile, cry, feel, and think.
Impressive, daring, thought provoking, appropriate, and making me think deeply about my own faith is what I got out of watching “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
It was good for my soul.
As for people of faith that require all things “Jesus” to be kept on the straight and narrow, my challenge to you is to embrace art when done well knowing that it enhances your beliefs rather than distracts.
Not every painting needs to be literal and beautiful like Norman Rockwell. Picasso in the abstract often says the same thing by putting a chin over here and an eye over there.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” was never on my radar as a significant musical until now. I have been brought into the fold.
My mind is starting to wander with future visions of “West Side Story” “Les Miserables,” “Spring Awakening” “The Light In The Piazza” “Cabaret” “Man Of La Mancha” “Oklahoma” “Pacific Overtures” …it’s endless and exciting.
- Gary Cogill