It’s only appropriate that NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert air on Easter Sunday. There is no better way to celebrate the Holy holiday than with an Easter egg hunt in the day and a live TV adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at night. And when it comes to NBC live musical events, Jesus Christ Superstar ranks at the top. What could have felt like a dated rock opera was more like an uproarious arena concert filled with screaming fans, frenetic lights, blaring speakers, pyrotechnics and a group of musicians and performers fueled with the spirit of a chaotic electric guitar wildly flailing about — just how Jesus would have wanted it.
Directed by David Leveaux (Nine), Jesus Christ Superstar, from the get-go, wants you to know that it’s cool. With a scaffolded set that looks like the graffitied ruins of a Mad Max movie, the event starts with a hard-rock overture pulsating with guitar riffs and orchestral strikes. The musicians are clad in motorcycle jackets, scarves, mohawks, dark eye makeup, tattoos, knee-length distressed T-shirts, and all sorts of leather attire to reiterate the fact that this is a rebellious “We’re Not Gonna Take It” musical. Sure, everyone might look like extras from The Lost Boys, but it’s all with good reason: to slather on updated details to prevent this live TV event from being a sad attempt to do a soulless carbon copy of the original 1970 musical.
The rock opera is filled with passion and exhaustive rock ‘n’ roll musicality that you have no choice but to be dive into this mosh pit of an event that tells the tale of Christ through an edgy score. The solid core cast strongly carries the musical on its shoulders only because of the equally strong chorus. The first voice we are introduced to is Judas, played with such gravitas and control with Brandon Victor Dixon. Having played the divisive Aaron Burr in Hamilton, Dixon has experience playing conflicted characters like Judas opposite John Legend’s Jesus Christ. With his full-bodied, soulful tone the Grammy winner fits into the J.C.’s sandals well (actually, in this adaptation he’s wearing a pair of white high tops). Chanteuse Sara Bareilles plays Mary Magdalene, J.C.’s “ride or die” chick and like Legend, Bareilles is well-suited for the unofficial 13th apostle, adding her strollingly mellow — yet robust — voice to the adaptation. The musical also featured the rich bellowing sounds of Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, Ben Daniels as the villainous Pontius Pilate and the one and only Alice Cooper providing a showstopping entrance as King Herod. All of whom gave so much life and energy to this non-stop rock opera ride that kept the dial at 10 for nearly two and half hours. Legend’s babyfaced performance as J.C. warms the soul while Bareilles’ sweetness overwhelms the musical with gentle heart, but it’s Dixon’s performance as Judas that should be anointed as the MVP of the show. His passionately committed performance orders you to get on your feet and praise like you have never praised before.
Let’s all be honest. There is one song that people wait for when it comes to Webber’s Tony-winning musical: the titular Superstar. Even veteran Broadway fans will subtly sit at the edge of their seat, waiting in anticipation to hear that “JE-SUS CHRIST! SUPER-STAR!” fanfare ring through their ears. The song is pretty much iconic when it comes to Broadway songs and when it first opened in 1970 on Broadway and then released in 1973 as a film, the rock opera style was very of the time and was super cool. Now, after numerous touring productions and a live musical concert event, Webber’s stylized story of Jesus Christ has withstood the test of time with its classic musical flair drenched in ear-bleeding guitar riffs. And the titular song is a well-earned treat in the second act after listening to the first two hours of the musical’s electrifying groove-worthy feast of a score.
With Jesus Christ Superstar, NBC is three for five when it comes to their slate of live musical events. Many would like to forget Peter Pan Live! and I still can’t get the vision of Carrie Underwood singing “Do-Re-Mi” while on a stage filled with a crimson tide of flags from the Third Reich in The Sound of Music. Jesus Christ Superstar is on par with the live adaptations of The Wiz and Hairspray, giving a non-stop entertaining musical event that stays true to the source material while giving the perfect amount of contemporary appeal.