Jesus Christ Superstar: John Legend’s Revival

Jesus Christ Superstar

 

As one who wore out multiple cassette tapes (yes, remember those?) listening to the original 1970 concept album for Jesus Christ Superstar, I planted in front of the TV on Easter to watch John Legend tackle the revival. It was a little confusing, given the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber play never deals with Christ as a divine figure, for it to appear as a feature on Easter. The particular notoriety of the day is to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The end piece of music titled John Nineteen Forty-One references the biblical chapter and verse:

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had even been laid.”

The play never goes beyond his death. At the time of the album release, I was a PK. That means, I was a priest’s kid, living in the rectory of my father’s parish church. He and my mother held a dim view over the play’s treatment of the Apostles and the fact the true aspect of Christ’s “superstar” status resulted from his rising from the dead. They didn’t enjoy the concept that Christ should have picked a more suitable time, one with the power of modern media coverage to debut his message, that he was merely a societal sensation two thousand years ago.

As for me, I loved the music and the vocal performances of Ian Gillan, Yvonne Elliman, and Murray Head. I wanted to hear those songs performed again. I never saw the original play, I only had the album, so I couldn’t compare acting performances, but I could compare how the old vocals would stack up against the new ones by John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon.

As the play unfolded, disappointment grew. First, the acting wasn’t good. I’ll leave it there. I wanted to experience voices that recreated the range the music demanded, those visceral screams only a rock-and-roller can muster. Ian Gillan sang with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. When he sang The Temple, his vocals touched every nerve in your spinal column. Similarly, Murray Head dropped the mic with Damned For All Time on the original album. Both Legend and Dixon have beautiful voices, but this kind of production did not fit their vocal style. If called upon to cast the role of Jesus for this rock opera, American Idol alum, Adam Lambert would have been a first choice. His vocals are ridiculous, and the restoration of Superstar would have been complete.

Most of the reviews for this production have been positive. Taking nothing away from John Legend as a singer, younger people should grab the music service of their choice and check out the 1970 original. For this revival, I have to cast a dissenting vote.

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