Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar: Still a Great Rock Opera

Jesus, Judas and the apostles on stage at the Maumee Theater

Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970s rock opera, is now on stage at the Maumee Theater, and it's a wonderful production (by the 3B productions company). The actors, the voices, the simple set and contemporary costumes, the staging of the various ensembles that respond like Greek choruses to the unfolding drama, and the orchestra, with a great piano player, are all outstanding. The dissonence of the overture's score at the opening sets the tone, from the first act to the Gethesame and Cruxifiction scenes at the end. It's exciting.  

I left the theater singing the music. The tunes are still playing in my mind as I write.  I've always loved Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and Tim Rice's lyrics.  I don't remember the details of the 1970s production I saw I think in Ann Arbor, but this staging at the Maumee Theater has its own vibe. 

Mary Magdalene's Song

I don't know how to love him
What to do, how to move him
I've been changed, yes really 
changed. In these past few days
When I've seen myself
I seem like someone else

The relationship between Judas and Jesus rocks, in more ways than one, as each expresses his doubts and beliefs and worries, and a full range of human emotions.  In fact this secular version of the Jesus story, at least that's what I would call it, has a way of pulling you in and raising all kinds of questions. Is Jesus an ordinary man, like Judas, or a Messiah? This question remains to the tragic or triumphant end, however one interprets it.  More than anything else, I think this is the main point of the Webber and Rice opera that morphed from a concept album into a hit Broadway show. 

From time to time I'd lean over to ask my daughter if this or that was actually in the Bible. "In Matthrew, Mark, Luke or John?" I'd whisper. Mostly she said "Well no, it's not," or "No, it's different."   At one point she leaned over and whispered, "That's in."  Judas' suicide. Wow, I had forgotten that story.  "Why did you pick me to betray you," Judas asks in anquish, as the moaning and groaning of the dark ensemble closes in on him, stilling his voice.  

So many doubts.  This is the fascinating aspect of Webber's opera, teaming with dissonence and intentional anachronisms, from jubilant or writhing ensembles to screaming falsetto, the anquished cries of Judas and Jesus, the slapjack vaudeville scenes, and then to a finale that still leaves us full of questions.   

It's a long way from the 1970s to today, and in some ways seeing Jesus Christ Superstar in our contemporary context embodies the distance.   On the other hand, it still raises eternal questions about faith and doubt. It still resonates.       

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