Everyone Has the Hots for Jesus: The Musical
Instead of stepping inside a church (and risking bursting into flames), I decided to watch Jesus Christ Superstar from the comfort of my mom's couch and I have zero regrets.
I've been an avid musical fan and theater kid since the summer of ‘06. For most musicals you can name drop, I can respond with the composer, plot, and a sample of the most famous number. But admittedly, there was a gap in my knowledge, as I didn't know much about Jesus Christ Superstar. Other than the big numbers, and obviously that it was about Jesus and friends. Which, side note: this musical should really be titled Everyone Has the Hots for Jesus: The Musical. Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the oddly popular acid-trip-about-the-Bible musicals of this age in theater history. While it falls pitfall to being an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, many consider it to be one of his best.
I knew that John Legend and Sara Bareilles were attached to play Jesus and Mary, respectively, which was enough to whet my appetite.
Having seen many of the live for TV musicals, I do feel like this one finally got the formula down. And with added holiday tie-in for netting maximum viewership. This performance combined a well-known show by a well-known composer, household name leads, and the high production value only cable advertisements can buy. I do think where JCS surpassed its predecessors is that it had a better understanding of camera use, and really leaned into the cinematic nature of the show. The production team did something really interesting with combining a very ambitious live production with very thoughtful, interesting filming strategies. The camera work is really the unsung hero of this performance.
The actual heroes of this production are the performers, all talented, and impeccably chosen. Sara Bareilles, who has already proven her Broadway chops with her part in Waitress, was a subtle and sweet Mary. Maybe she fussed over her castmates a bit much, but she shined in some of the show’s most iconic moments, including the infamous solo “I Don't Know How To Love Him.” I suspect that ochre high-low dresses with gladiator sandals will be all too common at theater kid proms this spring.
I really enjoyed John Legend’s performance as Jesus. His voice is undeniably stunning. I think he brought his starpower, and his audience interactions gave an authenticity to his portrayal of a larger than life figure. Switching between zen and hot headed, the mostly singer had a lot of ground to cover and did it well. And finally Hamilton’s Brandon Victor Dixon absolutely rocked the show as Judas, the true lead of the show. Dark, and kinda sexy, but grounded in his impeccable Broadway technique carrying the show was effortless for him. In particular, his broken down, sweat-drenched pre-suicide moments were both memorable and powerful. Only to come back from the dead to crush the show’s upbeat titular number. Alice Cooper was Alice Cooper.
I do think some of the production choices were heavy-handed. Jesus and Judas donned tanks so low-cut, I kept questioning when we would see nipple. I think it's absurd that they both wore moto skinny pants. And the whole aesthetic was a little too Rent for a musical that has nothing to do with the 90s. The weird faux time period also got muddled in the attempts to make the show relevant to the 2018 viewer. The “media circus” moment where the reporters swarm Jesus was an example of this. Playing into the “Jesus was friends with prostitutes” narrative was a little too on the nose for me, in the Stormy Daniels era of the current administration. But I do appreciate that this course let more focus fall to Sara Bareilles who was truly exceptional.
From what I've seen, the production has been widely favored with good reason! It's live theater that is accessible to the masses, which should always be celebrated. Next to come to the small screen is Bye Bye Birdie… God, help us all.
Mom: I hear John Legend was trying to lose a lot of weight for this part
Me: gotta get those Jesus abs.
Mom: don't you have leather leggings like that
Me: yep, I'm trying to look Judas chic
Mom: have you worn those yet?
Me: I haven't had an occasion yet.