Jesus Christ Superstar - An Artistic Legacy Lives

Jesus Christ Superstar - An Artistic Legacy Lives

 "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973)

Directed by Norman Jewison  

Screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Norman Jewison based on the rock musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Starring Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson and Yvonne Elliman. 

"You've started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe this talk of God is true
And all the good you've done
Will soon get swept away
You've begun to matter more than the things you say"
~Judas

 The 70's were a heck of a time to be alive. (Note: I wasn't.) The world was truly upending itself. Ideas and communities that had occupied the fringes were finally taking centre stage. Conventions were challenged, cultures were questioned, and finally, paradigms and popular opinions could be formed by pretty much anyone. America protested its troops' presence in Vietnam, gay rights shared a stage with civil rights, martial arts, pornography and organised crime went into the cinematic mainstream, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple II, punk took over from rock and roll, disco took over from soul, women's lib had gone worldwide, and psychedelic-manufactured love still permeated the atmosphere.

Then two writers/lyricists took on the spirit of the times, and directed their crosshairs at another stiff and unrelenting institution - the church. They created a rock opera, that became a musical, that became a film, whose legacy lives on today.

"Listen Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don't you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied,
Have you forgotten how put down we are?"

Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical depiction of the last week of Jesus' life; seen largely through the perspective of his close apostle and self-appointed right-hand man, Judas. Jesus' followers are preparing to ride into Jerusalem, buoyed by his gospel; previously steeped in peace and goodwill, but now taking on overt tones of revolution. Judas fears for him, believing that Jesus' previously noble agenda has now turned provocatively religious. As Jesus gives himself over to foreshadowings of death, Judas organizes a meeting with the religious authorities to keep the peace, and you know how the rest of the story goes.  

This wasn't Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's first joint foray into converting scripture to musical theatre. They were still riding on their uplifting take on a popular Old Testament story in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. JCS, however, was more audacious, more self-aware, more intentional about being a mirror of our times. Anyone can lend artistic license to a series of Biblical events. But it takes a different ambition to make a musical tale about Christianity's central character and series of events; anachronisms, love stories and all. It's been done before of course, most memorably with Martin Scorsese's infamous Th Last Temptation of Christ. But JCS tells the most pervasive story of our time with boldness, flair and the sort of passion that could have come only from those thrilling times.

Which is why the film remains a classic, as does the musical that led to it.

"When he's cold and dead,
Will he let me be,
Does he love?
Does he love me too?
Does he care for me?"

*** 

"Jesus Christ Superstar, The Musical" is running at the Kenya National Theatre all through Easter weekend. Do come and see it. I'll be playing Judas. :-) Get tickets at tikiti.co.ke

 

Photography by Brian of Boma Photography (@iamboma_photography) and Chris Swai.

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