Ah, Holy Week. Or as my teacher puts it, Holy Hell Week. I suppose depending on the amount of services one sings, it can feel like hell week for a show. Many of us after finishing that last Easter Sunday service can just check out. I know I don’t mind a quiet Easter Sunday alone, making myself a nice dinner and as is my tradition, watching Ten Commandments. As a result of that tradition, I missed out on the NBC Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert broadcast. But rest assured, I was well up to speed on everyone’s opinions of it as my newsfeed was flooded with them. I was seeing a wide range of opinions; many praising the show and the singers, some critiquing, primarily of John Legend, and even a little lambasting. Well, I always take other peoples opinions with a grain of salt as I know I will inevitably enjoy a performance in my own way. So, now that I have a day off, I sat down to watch it.
Personally, Jesus Christ Superstar has never been an Andrew Lloyd Weber show I particularly enjoyed. And I am a proud ALW fan (I love Phantom of the Opera, deal with it!). None the less though, I am perfectly fine to sit down and watch a production of it, and even the film from the 70s. And I did particularly want to see this production. John Legend as Jesus, Alice Cooper as Herod, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene; all very interesting casting. My thought on John Legend being cast as Jesus was he clearly does not have the kind of voice required to sing Jesus, but he’s an amazing singer and a brilliant artist so I’m very interested to see what he brings to this role and how he interprets it. The idea of Sara Bareilles singing Mary Magdalene was beyond exciting! I couldn’t wait to hear her sing this role and how she was going to inevitably embody it. And Alice Cooper, oh Alice Cooper. Being that Alice Cooper and I are both Phoenix natives, I’ve grown up hearing all about him regularly (and let’s not forget his perfect cameo in the Wayne’s World movie, talk about solidifying your presence in my generation). So being able to see him take on such an iconic, quirky character as Herod was a treat I was definitely looking forward to.
So, after watching it I can say straight up this was an exciting and spectacular production. Very tight everywhere, musically, characteristically, visually. The set was simple and yet so multi-faceted. I gave the austerity and brittleness of the biblical Judean backdrop while being modern and industrial. The lighting was beautiful and varied, sometimes simple, sometimes outrageous and elaborate. The filmography for this broadcast was expertly done as well, catching the best angles and moments. The way they caught the walls closing in like a cross with the light shining through was stunning! The band, oh my God the band!! This ensemble of musicians was so unbelievably on point. Their music was exciting and grandiose! They even “broke the proscenium” and joined in the staging, becoming a character to the story which I thought was a brilliant way to utilize them. The ensemble was as amazing as any Broadway ensemble can be. Every one of the actors in the ensemble gave 110 percent! Strong and varied voices across the board; each little solo line was so omnipresent and definitive, making each one of themselves an individual character. The ensemble was a beautifully diverse group of people in all shapes and colors, an equal representation of all races and body types (just what Jesus would want, right??). And boy did every single one of them knew how to move! Those dance numbers were exciting and so energetic!! Such an abundance of real amazing talent!
Now the principle artists. John Legend: as I stated above, I knew his voice was not suited to the role of Jesus, and many people I know expressed similar trepidations. The situation with Jesus is that the role is written for a very specific voice with a very distinct range. And of course, we the audience are always waiting for the money note in “Gethsemane”, which straight up, John Legend didn’t have. He sang it falsetto, and that is something you simply cannot do with the role of Jesus. It takes away from the power of the story and the strength of the music. So, that was unfortunate. Otherwise, he was a heart rendering Jesus; sensitive and compelling, strong and direct. He was an equitable contrast to Brandon Victor Dixon’s burly and volatile Judas (more on him in a bit). Asides from the previously mentioned money note, his voice and his singing brought a great interpretation to the role, and as I suspected it would, making it his own. This is not a role he would do on Broadway or on tour, it would kill his voice (and I’m sure he knows that). But for a one-night-only performance, I was moved by his portrayal of Jesus. Sara Bareilles brought exactly what I thought she would to Mary Magdalene! She was graceful and beautiful; her warmth was so enchanting. Vocally speaking, you would have thought she was born to sing this role, it fit her like a glove. Her rendition of “I don’t know how to love him” was seamless and captivating, showing off her gorgeous voice and brilliant artistry.
Alice Cooper as Herod was simply perfection! The role of Herod is a cameo role; he only comes on for his one number and that number alone always grabs and entertains the audience, so to have an artist as notable and as quirky as Alice Cooper was excellent casting! He was entertaining and delightful, even pulling out his little ism of holding his hand out to the audience, in the character of Herod, for their admiration. It was perfectly befitting of the role. Norm Lewis as Caiaphas was strong. I mean, it’s Norm Lewis, you can always expect him to turn out a strong and bold performance and that’s exactly what he did here. Shout out to Ben Daniels as Pilate who brought a lot of range and versatility to the role. And now, Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas….. one word: EMMY!!!! At least a nomination in some category! The truth is, it’s not hard for an actor playing Judas to steal the show, but Dixon didn’t just steal the show, he took complete ownership of it. He embodies the role of Judas, vocally and characteristically every step of the way. He brought the audience to their feet, to tears, and left us shaking at his suicide. His performance was art at its zenith!!
It’s still streaming on NBC so watch it!! That’s all I have to say!!