NBC — home to the hit family drama “This Is Us,” and the network that aired one season of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” — has chosen “Jesus Christ Superstar” as its next live TV musical, to air on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018.
Staged on Broadway in 1971, “Superstar” follows NBC’s other live musical events, including adaptations of “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan,” “The Wiz” and “Hairspray.”
Original show creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are executive producers for the event, and will oversee any new music or lyrics for the NBC vision. The other executive producers — Mark Platt (“La La Land”), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — are also veterans of musical productions.
“As we continue to expand the profile of our live musicals, we are thrilled to be partnering with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring a new live staging of the iconic ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to NBC,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. “Casting has just begun, but we want to fill out this classic show with as many recording artists as possible to give proper voice to what is the original rock opera score.”
The choice of “Superstar” follows Fox’s Palm Sunday, 2016, presentation of Tyler Perry’s “The Passion.” The live event was based on a Dutch production chronicling the last hours of Christ’s life, staged in New Orleans and featuring a panoply of pop-music performers.
Apparently NBC is also on the hunt for authentic music stars to fill out the cast.
For those too young to remember “Superstar,” it’s a rock-musical take on the last week leading up to the Crucifixion, largely from Judas’ perspective (or at least the perspective assigned to him in this version of the Passion narrative).
Most people who know “Superstar” have either heard the original cast album or seen the 1973 film version, starring Ted Neeley as Jesus, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. But at its heart, it’s still a stage show.
Also from Variety:
The musical first opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway in 1971 and starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas, and was nominated for five Tony Awards that year. Prior to making its way to the stage, the musical was originally conceived as a concept album that hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts. Since then, the show has been performed in nearly 20 countries and translated into 18 different languages. In the 46 years since its debut, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been revived many times, including Tony-nominated runs in 2000 and 2012.
From a Catholic perspective, “Superstar” is not good catechesis, but then, why would anyone expect a 1970s rock musical to be that, anyway? But it is an engaging, very human portrayal of Christ, and many folks — myself included — have found it spiritually uplifting and effective.
NBC’s version could be great, or awful, or somewhere in between, but throwing up a few prayers starting now can’t hurt.
Many Christians have decried “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but the Vatican did approve a version for pilgrims back in 1999.
From the U.K. Guardian:
Gerald O’Collins, a professor of theology at Gregorian university in Rome, said that accusations that the musical demeaned or trivialised Jesus were misplaced. “Christians have been depicting Him on stage since the passion plays of the middle ages,” he said. “This is no different.”
Here’s a peek at Ted Neeley’s performance:
Here’s Elliman, with Mary Magdalene’s signature song:
And Carl Anderson, as Judas, singing the musical’s signature song:
And here’s the entire 1973 movie, filmed in Israel (it’s not a great quality video; for better, grab it off Amazon Prime):
Image: Original Broadway logo
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