“Jesus Christ Superstar” has come a long way, baby. First there was that groovy happening at the Hellinger in 1970, then the ‘73 theatrical, a revival at the Longacre (‘77), next the Neil Simon (‘12), and a few hundred — thousand? — regional productions before and since. For all its eccentricities and that “sung-through” aspect, “JCS” is indestructible.
Or is it?
As of last night, yes, officially indestructible. NBC’s live production from the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg did what every “JCS” has done over the last half century, or had better have done. It was energetic (de rigeur), secular (usually is), handsomely staged (or scaffolded) and sonic (the louder the better).
Also, there were a few reprises of “Everything’s Alright” — one of two songs from this Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice classic that most viewers have actually heard before. All in all, just fine.
As Christ, John Legend was out-sung by Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr, “Hamilton”) who was Judas Iscariot, Norm Lewis (Caiaphas), Ben Daniels (Pontius Pilate) and Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene). But they out-sing everyone. Not a fair fight.
Meawnhile, Alice Cooper as Herod blew the roof off the Armory. Or was it perhaps that atomic tangerine lamé suit that did all the destruction? In any event, poor Armory.
Legend at least held his own and always does. Beyond vocal power, the role demands a physical presence as well as the presence of pain — Christ’s own suffering before and on the cross. The “39 lashes” were adminstered with a sharp brutal snap, one after another. This “JCS” didn’t pretend to ignore the brutality of the scene. As Christ on the cross recessing into the light, it didn’t attempt to diminish the spirituality either, at least in that moment.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of those musicals that demands to be re-interpreted. It’s not about the Bible. It’s about the box office. We live in the age of “Hamilton,” and whatever “Hamilton” magic “JCS” director David Leveaux could mine he did: Mostly that sense that history isn’t “history,” or the “past” isn’t the past, but right here, right now, right in front of our nose, or TV screen. “JCS” began with someone tagging a wall with “Jesus” — a dated gesture, yes, but you get the idea. This is Brooklyn, or a gentrified Williamsburg, and the revolutionary spirit of Jesus is right here, right now.
Mostly this musical is about peace, love and understanding. It’s all groovy, baby. It’s beautiful, too. So was NBC’s enjoyable live (and lively) “JCS.”