Inside Jesus Christ Superstar: It’s Judas’ Story

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar set the world buzzing when it first appeared on vinyl in 1970 and on Broadway in 1971.

Later on, the film’s director Norman Jewison would say, “My hope is that audiences will take this for what it is – an opera, not history. These kids are trying to take Jesus off the stained-glass windows and get him down on the street.”

Judas (right, played by Evan Tyler Wilson) and Apostle Simon/Peter (played by Pascal Pastrana)

Judas (right, played by Evan Tyler Wilson) and Apostle Simon/Peter (played by Pascal Pastrana)

Tim Rice did with this story the same thing that clergy across America do every Sunday morning: remove it from its distant past and foreign culture and give it resonance and relevance to the issues and obstacles we face every day.

In setting the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for the modern stage, lyricist Tim Rice approached the story as political history instead of revealed scripture, and Jesus as radical political activist (mirroring the times) rather than as the son of God.

Rice says he was first inspired by the lyric from Bob Dylan song, “With God on Our Side”:

“I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide, did Judas Iscariot have God on his side?”

Judas (back left) watches Jesus from afar. Is he on Christ's side?

Judas (back left) watches Jesus from afar. Is he on Christ’s side?

Rice was quoted at the time saying, “We need to humanize Christ, because for me, I find Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels as a God as a very unrealistic figure. The same is true, on the other hand, for Judas who is portrayed just as a sort of cardboard cut-out figure of evil.”

The bulk of American and British critics complained repeatedly this was not a proper retelling of the Biblical story. Rice and Lloyd Webber never intended to tell the “Biblical” story, but instead an alternative story of famous events. What’s more, they’re telling the story of Judas, not Jesus.

Rice and Lloyd Webber broke new ground with Jesus Christ Superstar. First, the idea of rock opera was still brand new. Though The Who’s Tommy had already been released, no rock opera had been staged. Second, the idea that rock and roll was an acceptable – even a preferable – language with which to tell this story was quite radical. And perhaps most important today, the choice to focus the show on Judas rather than Jesus.

JCS_Tech (49)

This is not a show not about Jesus’ teachings, his divinity, his suffering on the cross, or his resurrection. That’s still very much there. This is a story asking a simple question: Why did Judas feel he needed to betray Jesus?

The show’s title song was released as a single before MCA recorded the whole opera (to see if it would be a commercial disaster). They also didn’t know that this lyric would become the central point of the entire show and the answer to the story’s central question: Why did Judas betray Jesus?

Caiaphas (center, played by Gabe Mayfield) meets with Annas (left, played by David Greenberg) and the Authorities to discuss this Jesus must die.

Caiaphas (center, played by Gabe Mayfield) meets with Annas (left, played by David Greenberg) and the Authorities to discuss this Jesus must die.

The title Jesus Christ Superstar embodies the reason for Judas’ betrayal – the “superstardom,” the hype, the baggage — it all became more important than the very important philosophical message Jesus wanted to convey, a message Judas believed in.

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TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE AND GOING FAST!

Jesus Christ Superstar

Runs April 16 through May 3
Wednesday – Saturday @ 7:30pm
Sundays @ 2:00pm
April 25 & May 2 – Saturday matinees @ 2:00pm
April 29 – ASL Interpreted performance

Get them online, call 218.733.7555, or stop by in-person at the box office (located in the Duluth Depot building at 506 West Michigan Street).

Blog post inspired by the following article: New Line Theatre

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