In the US it’s become somewhat of a tradition for major networks to broadcast live productions of well-known musicals. With productions such as The Sound of Music, Grease and Hairspray proving to be big hits, the latest was Jesus Christ Superstar, which aired over Easter weekend on NBC. Based on Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical, the ambitious production boasts an all-star cast including singers John Legend, Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper, and Tony-nominated Broadway actor Brandon Victor Dixon.
I’m pretty sure you’ll know the plot of Jesus Christ Superstar, even if you’ve never seen the musical before. The production tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ (John Legend) life, leading up to his crucifixion. As he struggles to deal with the demands of his disciples, and the disapproval surrounding his relationship with Mary Magdalene (Sara Bareilles), his best friend Judas (Brandon Victor Dixon) betrays him when he believes Jesus has lost sight of his purpose.
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert is certainly performed with gusto. With little spoken dialogue during the performance, the pressure is on for all of the stars to sustain their vocals. John Legend is a bit of a revelation vocally. That silky smooth voice we’ve come to know over the years is packed with more passion and theatricality than I’ve ever heard before. He showcases a range that I didn’t know he had and as far as the singing goes he hits the mark every time. In terms of acting though, Legend lacks in parts and he’s outshined by some of his more experienced cast members.
The production is really a showcase for Brandon Victor Dixon who plays Judas. With a wealth of Broadway experience under his belt, he is the true star of this show. His vocals are powerful yet seemingly effortless and he delivers a multi-faceted performance that ensures you remember him once the credits roll. He truly is a remarkable performer and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a transition into film following his turn in this production.
Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who has been wowing audiences on Broadway in Waitress, brings solid vocals and vulnerability to Mary Magdalene but she doesn’t really get a lot to do. I would have actually liked to see a lot more of her as she brought calm into the midst of an otherwise frenetic and chaotic production. Alice Cooper’s appearance as King Herod feels a little misjudged and out of place. There’s nothing particularly wrong with what he does but you can’t help feeling that this is a bit of stunt casting.
Aside from the performances, the creative side of Jesus Christ Superstar is magnificent. The sets and costumes are superb, the lighting and sound never falter, and the direction creates an atmosphere that has the musical jumping out of your TV screen. It’s remarkable that they managed to pull off something so ambitious as this.
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert is an enjoyable watch. There are niggles to be had here and there but if you’re mostly interested in the music, you won’t be disappointed. These big productions are always a draw and it’s no surprise that Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert dominated the ratings when it originally aired. Perfect it may not be but entertaining it certainly is.
Cast: John Legend, Sarah Bareilles, Alice Cooper, Ben Daniels, Brandon Victor Dixon, Norm Lewis, Jason Tam and Erik Gronwall Director: David Leveaux Writers: Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber Certificate: U Duration: 140 mins Released by: Sony Masterworks Release date: 15th June 2018