Last night we saw the touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I have never seen this rock opera (although I'm a big fan of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.) What fascinated me was that no one was protesting this production. JCS is at least as anti-Semitic as The Passion of Christ, and almost as suggestive of a romantic relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus as The Da Vinci Code. However, no one mentioned any of these things and we were able to enjoy it or not as mere rock opera fantasy, without a whiff of politics or posturing. The Wikipedia entry for JCS mentions that the Broadway opening received some outcry, but that it died down quickly. I don't remember the early 70s that well, but maybe some of our readers do. Perhaps time has made JCS innocuous, or perhaps just the catchy music keeps us from taking it's theological underpinnings too seriously. It's really just Hair without the nudity.
What was disappointing was the actor in the role of Jesus. The actor was Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the film version in 1973. Wednesday was his 63rd birthday. (Jesus was not 63.) Directorial discretion had Neeley play Jesus as very detached and slightly bitter, so Jesus came across as fairly grumpy and not quite as good a singer as he might have been in 1973. No one wants to be critical of Jesus, so this flaw made me quite uncomfortable. I felt bad about myself for not really liking Jesus, and for wanting him to stop singing. One recurring line that Jesus sings is "Feels like thirty years," which is supposed to refer to his weariness after his three-year teaching journey. Unfortunately, the weary line seemed to refer to the actor's weariness of playing Jesus for thirty years.
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1. Posted by Gordon Smith on September 22, 2006 @ 10:21 | Permalink
My elementary school held a convocation and showed JCS in the lunchroom/gymnasium. This is during school hours, mind you, in Osseo, Wisconsin. That's one of those events from my childhood that I look back on and ask, "How did that happen?" I don't remember any protests, and I am not sure what motivated the teacher or administrator who took the initiative to organize the event. Just strange.
2. Posted by Dave! on September 22, 2006 @ 10:49 | Permalink
"I felt bad about myself for not really liking Jesus, and for wanting him to stop singing."
Best line in a post yet. :)
3. Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on September 23, 2006 @ 1:21 | Permalink
How can I not take the bait of recalling something from the early '70s? I was in high school when it came out, and owned a copy of the original vinyl LP.
You have to remember the strange early history of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and JCS. They meant to produce the original JCS as a show, but nobody wanted it. So they simply issued it as a record (with Yvonne Elliman, who reprised Mary Magdalene in the movie; Murray Head, a second rate actor, as Judas; and the guy who was the lead singer for Deep Purple (Ian something, I can't remember his last name - "we all went down to Montreux...smoke on the water and fire in the sky")). I'm pretty sure it was produced as a movie before it ever became a live show again. But the point is that it had become a sensation merely as a sound track, with a couple cuts that made it on the singles charts ("I Don't Know How to Love Him; Jesus Christ Superstar"), and I don't think anybody ever really focused on the story it was telling in the way people focused on Mel Gibson and Passion of the Christ when it came out.
Gordon, one of my earliest memories is of being the only Jewish kid in the Herrington Elementary School in Pontiac, Michigan as five year old in kindergarten in 1959. The duly solicitous faculty, knowing this, decided they would make the Christmas program a Christmas-Hanukkah program, with one of the features being ME lighting the Hanukkah candles and saying the blessing up on the stage in front of the entire assembled school community. I can still remember standing alone on the stage, the curtains opening, seeing hundreds of people out there in the gym, and thinking to myself "no, I am not going to say anything." I stood there for what I was told later in life was about five minutes, saying nothing, with my parents in the third or fourth row, gesticulating wildly, until finally the piano started playing and the curtain closed.
4. Posted by Mike Guttentag on September 23, 2006 @ 19:44 | Permalink
I am not sure that I agree with the premise that Weber’s play is as anti-Semitic as Gibson’s movie. I have not studied either work very carefully (I saw “Passion of the Christ” once, and I’ve seen “Jesus Christ, Superstar” a couple of times).
My sense is that “Jesus Christ, Superstar” retells the story of the Gospel in a generally hip way (for its time), and portrays the role of Jews in a way that is consistent with that approach to the retelling. My sense is that the “Passion of the Christ” intentionally leaves the impression that Jews are responsible for a deep wrong for which they would/should be punished in the future.