Doing a lot of singing and a good deal of musical theatre throughout his youth, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend largely gave up the latter pursuit in college and beyond, only returning to the stage for a live theatrical performance recently with NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. The latest in a string of live, televised musicals from the network, Jesus Christ Superstar aired on Easter Sunday, reuniting Legend with many familiar faces, including La La Land producer Marc Platt, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan—who helped execute his Oscar performance of “Glory” alongside Common—and music producer Harvey Mason Jr.
With this team in front of Legend, the decision to take on the production was a no-brainer. “With the opportunity to play Jesus Christ in such a great show that’s so iconic, I was like, ‘This is perfect. I shouldn’t turn this down. It should be a lot of fun,'” Legend told Deadline in Tribeca today, reflecting on the beginnings of the experience.
In conversation with Deadline, Legend compared the experience of the musical theatre production to that of taking his own music on tour, dissecting the similarities and differences at hand. ” The concert tour that I would normally do, it’s kind of a smaller team, a smaller production. But in some ways, it’s kind of similar to what we did with Jesus Christ Superstar, in that we collaborate on the vision, the visuals, the staging,” the artist said. “Of course, I write most of my music, so I’m more involved in the composition of my own show, and it was just a much more massive undertaking when it came to the number of moving parts—the choreography, the set design, all these other things. I had done that on my own tours, but definitely on a smaller scale.”
Going through complex rehearsals for NBC’s live show—for the stage and then for the cameras capturing the performances—the situation was made all the more complicated when Legend introduced his own Asian tour into the mix. “I personally kind of messed up the rehearsal schedule because I had already planned an Asian tour in March, and the show was set to go to air on Easter Sunday. So they had to kind of shift the rehearsal schedule,” Legend explained. “We started in mid-February, about seven weeks before the broadcast, and we did about two-and-a-half weeks before I went on tour.”
“We were doing it in this church basement that was essentially the same size as the Armory stage that we were going to do. So we were able to simulate a lot of what we were going to do on stage in that church basement,” Legend continued. “The only issue was, a lot of the ensemble wasn’t at rehearsal during that time. So they had to be integrated and brought into the experience while I was gone.”
To hear more from John Legend about the making of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, take a look above.
The Deadline Studio at Tribeca is presented by Nespresso.