JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT — Pictured: (l-r) Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas, John Legend as Jesus — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
What’s the buzz on this live TV Musical?
On Sunday, April 1, NBC broadcasted a staged concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”, which tells the story of the last week of Jesus of Nazareth’s life before his crucifixion. However, this musical tells the story from the perspective of the traitor who has been made infamous for almost 2,000 years: Judas Iscariot.
The main cast consisted of the following: “Hamilton” actor, Brandon Victor Dixon, Judas Iscariot; R&B Musician, John Legend, Jesus Christ; Broadway Veteran, Norm Lewis, High Priest Caiaphas; Sara Bareilles, Mary Magdalene; and Alice Cooper, King Herod. The set and costume design can best be described as post-apocalyptic grunge, which is not the first time the musical has diverged from its hippy roots of the original 1973 movie of the same name.
The musical was sung completely through without any dialogue. The lack of dialogue was a weak point when it came to framing the songs because there was nothing to buffer scene transitions, which can be jarring for those who are trying to figure out where the plot is going. But knowing network executives, the dialogue was most likely cut to keep the run time down.
Another shortcoming from making this musical concert truly enjoyable, was John Legend’s acting. While he delivered vocally, his acting or lack thereof, left the role of Jesus rather uninspiring. Legend’s facial expressions ranged from a “worried” expression to a “slightly distressed and constipated” one.
The specific moment where that emoting was needed was in the Temple scene. In previous productions, the actor playing Jesus goes on a rampage and flips tables over while screaming at the merchants and money changers to get the f**k out of the temple for turning it to a “den of thieves”.
Legend did not bring that intensity to that scene, he sounded like he was channeling an old man yelling at those ‘young whippersnappers’ to get off his front lawn. Sara Bareilles was also a rather bland Mary Magdalene who did not bring anything new to the role acting wise, she sang adequately, but she did not move the cold, black void I call a heart, with her rendition of the power ballad: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” I was left feeling bored being emotionally moved by paint dry and wanting to fast forward every time it was her turn to sing.
Alice Cooper, on the other hand, stole the show by gnawing on the scenery in probably the best version of “King Herod’s Song”, complete with show girls dressed as sexy pheasants. Norm Lewis also showed off his vocal prowess and strong stage presence that made him delightfully diabolical and imposing while rocking cornrows and his beautiful baritone with a long coat that made him and the other pharisees look like Sith Lords, far more competent Sith Lords than in the Star Wars Prequels. https://www.nbc.com/jesus-christ-superstar/video/norm-lewis-and-jin-ha-sing-this-jesus-must-die/3693350
Brandon Victor Dixon was a powerhouse; his rendition of the song “Superstar” brought down the house putting him on par with the late Carl Anderson. Dixon’s acting made Judas almost relatable, he brought depth and conflict to a figure who is often portrayed in a negative light, for many reasons, because betraying your friend and teacher is still a d*ck move, Judas.
Even if you had good intentions and just wanted to get through to Jesus that his messiah complex has gone to his head in this adaptation of the story of the Passion of Christ, stop whining about how Jesus spends too much time with Mary Magdalene before FanFiction writers start making stories about this thinly veiled love triangle.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” has been the best of the NBC Live Musicals so far, yet “the Wiz” still holds its own with this much larger production. It owes its success to a strong and diverse cast, strong ensemble, clever set design and excellent orchestration. Though the musical has some weak spots, it is leaps and bounds above NBC’s previous live musical productions.