Ever in the holiday spirit, NBC chose to ring in Easter Sunday with a live telecast of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hit rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.
Originally conceived as a concept album in 1970, the rock musical has gone on to become one of the most popular in existence, selling out in both professional and amateur productions all over the world. The musical follows the final week in the life of Jesus Christ. Unlike most biblical adaptations, the musical depicts the political and interpersonal struggles between Christ and Judas Iscariot. It also poses the question to the audience: Is Jesus really God, or is he just a man?
The live television broadcast stars John Legend in the title role of Jesus, Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas), Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene), Norm Lewis (Caiaphas), Jin Ha (Annas), Ben Daniels (Pontius Pilate), Jason Tam (Peter), Erik Gronwall (Simon Zealotes), and Alice Cooper (King Herod). The musical’s ensemble also boasts some of Broadway’s best talent including Melody Betts, Felicia Boswell, Abby Corrigan, Micaela Diamond, Rory Donovan, Christine Dwyer, Mike Evariste, F. Michael Haynie, Charissa Hogeland, Bre Jackson, Mykal Kilgore, Billy Lewis Jr., Joel Perez, Justin Gregory Lopez, Angel Lozada, Vince Oddo, Kyle Taylor Parker, Jonah Platt, Conor Ryan, Christina Sajous, Justin Matthew Sargent, Heath Saunders, Joey Taranto, Syndee Winters, and Lauren Zakrin, with dancers Chloe Davis, Timothy Edwards, Shelby Finnie, Bahiyah Hibah, Juel D. Lane, Terk Lewis, Mayte Natalio , Sarah Parker, Tre Smith, and Maleek Washington.
From the very start of the show it’s no mistaking the audience is in for a treat. Despite being labeled as a “concert” performance, the production is fully staged with an elaborate set, costumes, and choreography.
The production begins with its signature rock overture played on guitar by Brandon Niederauer, who recently finished his starring turn on Broadway as Zack in School of Rock, another Andrew Lloyd Webber venture. Soon, we are introduced to Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas, whose high tenor voice electrifies and astounds on so many levels. His display of Judas’ inner conflict and pain is a performance for the ages, transcending to the greatness of Carl Anderson and Ben Vereen, who each played the role on screen and on Broadway, respectively. Sara Bareilles also makes a fine Mary, sporting a calm, beautiful voice not unlike Yvonne Elliman, who originated the role. Even rock legend Alice Cooper seems to be having the time of his life in his “cameo” appearance as King Herod, a role he had previously sung on the 2000 London
cast album, but never played onstage.The only weak link in the cast seemed to be Mr. Legend, who, while a great singer in his own right, does not possess the rock n’ roll voice needed to carry this score. Legend’s acting is also pretty hit or miss, even flubbing some of his most crucial lines. Still, he does attempt to make his first musical theatre venture memorable and looks like he’s having fun with the part.
With an incredible set, terrific performances, and top notch orchestrations, Jesus Christ Superstar proves to be just as electrifying and relevant as ever. The show is now available for streaming on Hulu.