NBC resurrects Jesus Christ Superstar

Courtesy of NBC
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert was watched by 9.8 million viewers when it was televised on Easter night.

By Zach Landau | Editor-in-Chief

04/05/2018

Growing up, Jesus Christ Superstar was an Easter staple in the Landau household. My father had three copies of the original concept album on vinyl, and every night for 40 nights, we listened to it. JCS is a musical marvel to us, with the (very) liberal interpretation of the Gospels serving as a backdrop for ostensibly a political drama and a vehicle for bomb music.

But could such a miracle revive NBC’s attempts to bring back the live-musical genre? No, but boy does it try.

That casting is … fine. It’s fine. John Legend turns in an excellent performance as Jesus, but the strain to keep hitting every note was plain on his face toward the end. Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas) looked similarly languid toward the end of the second hour, but to both of their credits, they never were bad, per se. Indeed, no one performance turned out poor, but none really stood out, either.

That assessment excludes Alice Cooper as King Herod, though, and I have to say, I was quite disappointed with his turnout. His singing was passable, sure, but there was a severe missed opportunity to use some really awesome props or costumes to separate his scene from the rest. Having Cooper basically just wander the stage was also a sorely-received moment.

Speaking of costumes and disappointment, I would expect something a bit more than “dug out of the trash” for such a big production. That may be a bit too harsh, but most of the cast is indistinguishable from each other at a glance, and the commitment to dressing everyone like children wearing their parent’s worn laundry doesn’t help.

And who chose leather and oversized hoods for the Pharisees? Good lord.

The set is admirable, at least. It certainly captures the grandiose nature of the musical. However, as a fan of the movie, I can’t help but feel like the lighting and camerawork could have done more to really push the stylization of the props and backdrop more. These limitations may have been a compromise for the live-musical angle of the production, but who can say.

“Compromise” feels like the operative word here. If I saw this live, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it quite a bit. However, forced through the tube, this live rendition just doesn’t hit the mark. JCS has, after all, always struggled on-stage (the show has been revived three times on Broadway), and if there wasn’t a couch for me to lounge on, sitting through this production may have turned tedious.

However, I would be remiss to say that this iteration was bad. It certainly wasn’t. For my family and myself, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert was entertaining enough to watch. However, the latest attempt to push this album into the theater space reminds audiences of the much better original more than anything. As such, temper expectations when going into this work.

 

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