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"He's just the same as anyone, I know. He scares me so! When he's cold and dead will he let me be? Does he love me too? Does he care for me?"

1.13.2010

A few years ago I watched Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) for the second time and something just clicked. Suddenly the score was all I could listen to for weeks (its fantastic in the car), I spent hours comparing the original concept album to the film soundtrack, and researching the show's history and origins. It quickly became one of my top 10 musicals.

Unfortunately most people who I subsequently try to 'share the magic' with are underwhelmed. If you are one of these people, no worries. If you don't feel it, you don't feel it. BUT HOW CAN YOU NOT FEEL IT? I don't understand! I would never have guessed that this show was written by two atheists with only one musical under their belts. But the genius and power of it is undeniable.

Of the two musicals about the events of Gospels, I love both Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. But the tone of each is very different--specifically in the portrayals of Jesus. Victor Garber's Jesus in Godspell is goofy, good-natured, sweet, and light-hearted. He's tender and friendly with his followers, treating them as companions. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Ted Neeley's portrayal of Jesus is so striking because he shows how hard it must have been for Jesus during his ministry on earth, and the weight of his responsibilities and destiny. I love how in "Gethsemane" he is clearly scared and confused and angry with God about his fate, but ultimately trusting. Or that moment during "Hosanna" when everyone sings "Hey JC, JC, won't you DIE for me" and the look of surprise on his face (2:49)! Did Jesus always know that he would need to die? And as they ask in "Superstar," did he need to die like he did?

My friend Jennifer got us tickets to see the one-night only performance of Ted Neeley at the local theatre last night. I'd never seen the show on stage, so it was such a delight. It's hard to know though how much the version we saw is like the original staging, or if its been adapted to be as much like the movie as possible, since Ted is in it and all. Either way, it was thrilling.

I always love an opportunity to see a beloved actor reprise the role I've come to associate with them, so know that seeing Ted Neeley was a complete delight. Despite his age, he was still able to impress us with his rock-wails. The only problem was that he's maybe become a bit too comfortable in his role, foregoing all the commanding power and heavy burdens of his Jesus in the film. He was great at his interactions with the disciples, but during scenes when he was supposed to "look worried" and "hold on to problems that upset [him]" he looked way too happy. He also tended to pretend to talk to God a little too much, something he rarely if ever did in the film.

Seeing Ted of course made me wonder what it would have been like to see Carl Anderson, the Judas from the movie. Last night's Judas was cute and had a decent voice, but his acting was sub-par. His emotional intensity was nowhere near where it should have been. I've come to realize that Carl's Judas is pure perfection to me. I certainly like Murray Head, but Carl Anderson is THE SHIT as Judas.

Watch him in "Judas' Death," the song that I've quoted in the title of this post. His reprise of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" is just beyond belief (skip to 2:49). And don't even get me started on "Heaven On Their Minds."



Ok, ok, enough about Carl Anderson. Last night's production was low-key in effects and choreography, but it was still moving. Some scenes were a bit clunky ("The Temple", "Trial Before Pilate"), and "Superstar" wasn't as hair-raising as it could have been, but overall the show was gripping, fluid, and memorable. There's something so satisfying about the music in this show that is different than shows like Wicked or A Chorus Line or even Company (Sorry, Sondheim). It's just a stellar rock opera, and when those notes are hit--both musically and emotionally--GAH, it takes no prisoners!

I can't wait to see it again!

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