On Easter Sunday NBC aired “Jesus Christ Superstar Live!”. This past weekend Wifey® and I finally had a chance to watch it (thanks to the modern-day miracle of DVRs). I am quite familiar with this rock opera, having “stolen” the concept album (released in 1970) from my sister. I listened to it constantly. I could sing every part, yes, even Mary Magdalene’s “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (I figured if Judas reprises the song I could sing it too).
I have to admit that I am very partial to this version of the opera. With Ian Gillian (lead singer for Deep Purple) as Jesus, Murray Head as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary (this pre hookup with Eric Clapton), the power of these voices far outshines most the follow-up versions. John Legend did a very nice Jesus in this version and Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas and Sara Bareilles as Mary were exceptional.
The 1973 movie adaptation was terrible. Ted Neely, who was the understudy to Jeff Fenholt as Jesus in the original Broadway cast, just didn’t have the voice to carry the part. The 2000 movie version had cool costumes but still lacked the “power” behind the voices.
The choreography in the “Live” version was exceptional. As was the instrumentation. The blending of the 70’s era rock with the traditional orchestra instruments may be the biggest reason this opera has stayed with me for so long. I loved the way the electric string instruments came running in with the chorus (they go by the name of Choir! Choir! Choir!), and the violins and either a bass or cello, were seen in several scenes on stage playing. I can’t imagine the conductor keeping all these musicians spread across the stage in time with each other. A very impressive feat.
Since this opera debuted in the 70’s its theology is a bit dated. One of the most glaring problems is that it casts Mary Magdalene as a “woman of loose morals” to put it politely. I know there are still some folks who believe that Mary was of a questionable background. But I can’t find anything in the Bible that says she was a prostitute. All I can find is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (if anyone has any reliable proof of this assertion, please pass it along). My thought (just my opinion), is that folks tend to combine Mary with “the woman caught in adultery” story that’s found ONLY in the gospel of John (and many modern biblical scholars claim that the story is not found in our earliest copies of the gospel. The current thought is that it was added much later by a scribe!).
The other bit of “culture and bad theology” I’d like to talk about is “Godspell”. I believe this would be a musical as opposed to a rock opera as JC Superstar is. I was lucky enough to see Godspell on stage at the Coconut Grove Playhouse way back when 1976. It was very close to the movie version. Wifey® and I have watched this musical several times at some local churches. It’s usually performed by traveling college groups and are usually very good performances.
Godspell is supposed to be based on the gospel of Matthew. And just like “JCS” it takes some liberties with the gospel. Since are both products of the 70’s, taking liberties wasn’t uncommon, especially for anything having to do with the Bible. And that doesn’t bother me at all. I do believe that the Bible is a good thing to read and understand, but then we should also read the Qur’an, and books of other religions, as well, but I do not subscribe the “inerrant” view of the Bible.
One of the major controversies of Godspell is that Jesus is wearing clown makeup. Again, not a problem with me. It doesn’t portray Jesus as a clown, he just has a clown face on. It sets him apart from the rest of the cast, just as Christians have set the historical Jesus apart from the rest of humanity.
Needless to say, both of these shows played a major part of my theology growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I came to realize just how bad their theology was. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying them though. To me, it’s just artistic license. And as long as they keep cranking out quality shows, like the Live show, I’ll keep watching them.
Have you seen either of these shows? Tell me your thoughts if you did!
P.S. I went looking for a video of both of the shows on YouTube and there were too many to pick from. So it’s up to you to check them out.