Jesus Christ Superstar
What a strange, wonderful piece of work this is… It started out as a concept album utilizing the lead singer from Deep Purple for the part of Jesus. Really, it seems like it sells itself, doesn’t it?
I directed a production of this show many years ago, but long after that was a controversial choice. Imagine that… this show was controversial… because it portrays Jesus and Judas in somewhat human terms. I don’t know if Webber and Rice latched onto this concept with the idea that they would be stirring the pot, but I doubt it. I suspect they had a few ideas for some tunes and pulled it together from there. Besides, the story was pretty much written for them already.
As I was saying, I directed and co-produced a production in the mid-80s in a small college town. My friend, Tim, proposed the idea during a break while we worked on another show. He played Jesus (his brother, Dan, played Judas) and I walked around telling people where to stand. Looking back, we sold a lot of tickets and closed too soon or we might have been in danger of making some money. We also learned that we were not in the production business for the long haul though that was more the result of moving away than not enjoying ourselves.
Truth be told, I owned the original album before I ever went to college, so I was predisposed to agreeing to do the show. What it meant though was that I spent an awful lot of time listening to the recording over and over and staging it in my head. I have a memory of one housemate introducing me to the pair of headphones sitting beside the stereo and telling me that they were my friends.
Of course, I had seen the movie.
I have since seen a few productions. All of them (including mine) have played games with setting and have often attached various extraneous pieces to the show. On a stage, how could you do otherwise? Theatrical sets are never realistic- the more they try then the less they succeed. Just like the writer tries to wring extra meaning from every word, the set designer tries to suggest so much more with every bit of wood and canvas. But then you get the concept show… anyone who has attended college theater has seen Shakespeare transplanted to the wild west or Moliere updated to modern dress. That’s fine and you can even say that the original text provide the reason and value.
Which brings us full circle… who is the creator of the theatrical production? How much right does the director have to mess with the words on the page? For my part, I thought I was making a commentary on how the world dropped everything to follow this man when the cast essentially emerged from people setting up the stage and sitting in the audience. That does not sound too bad when I type it now and I found my excuse in the lyrics. The miracle of live theater is that it is made in the moment and only lives in memory. Those “bold” choices by directors never last long enough to damage a show built to last.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 218 more to go.
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