Jesus Christ Superstar - April 01

NBC

 Creative Team 

How Jesus Christ Superstar 

Live in Concert resurrects

Andrew Lloyd Webber and

Tim Rice's initial vision

By: Ruthie Fierberg

 

When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice first wrote Jesus Christ

Superstar  it wasn’t intended as a Broadway musical. The 1970 concept album was a rock opera depicting the last week of Jesus of Nazareth’s life. But when the album from the British songwriting team topped the U.S. Billboard Pop Album charts, unauthorized concerts materialized across America. Lloyd Webber and Rice had to mount their own version to hold on to the license for the performance material and Broadway came knocking. But on April 1, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert returns to its rock roots.

 

“[Andrew and Tim] knew our concept was to go back to that stripped down rawness that they had in the concept album,” says Marc Platt, an executive producer of NBC’s live musical event.

 

Raw. Visceral. Edgy. These words guided this production team back to the Superstar Rice and Lloyd Webber always envisioned—back to a rock concert. “This is going to be reckless TV,” says director David Leveaux. “Organized reckless TV. There is a useful, disciplined madness in the whole creation and our job is to send that entire voltage through a television screen.”

 

“There is an innate cultural energy with this show,” says Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Judas.

 

“Being a concert performer, the audience is why you showed up,” says Sara Bareilles, Superstar’s Mary Magdalene. “It will be nice to actually help distract from the idea that there are cameras at all—just play to the crowd and hopefully that will transcend.”

 

Still, the rock and roll vibe originates in the show’s foundation: the score. “The entire thing is emotionally told through music … that Andrew created and Tim Rice’s incredible wit,” Leveaux continues. “The whole thing is a musical enterprise and so our musicians become players.”

 

Superstar is the first of the live musicals to incorporate live musicians into the broadcast—32 of them to be exact. Television director Alex Rudzinski wants the band to become the “beating heart of the show.” (Expect an epic opening close-up of the iconic electric guitar and interactions between actors and musicians.) Choreographer Camille A. Brown draws on social dances, like the Charleston and New Orleans’ Second Line tradition to weavea movement language for actors and musicians among Jason Ardizzone-West’s playground set.

 

“We came to the design part architecture, part scenery, part live event, part concert stage,” says Ardizzone-West, who leans into rock n roll’s grit. “I think of an opera set structure that normalizes this broken, decrepit, formerly sacred chapel—ruined by time, and war, and human destruction—and Brooklyn 2018 pieced together for one night only.”

 

The fifth iteration of this new genre (screen fused with stage), Superstar is an ideal hybrid in form and content. “Rock and roll is actually both modern and ancient in form,” he says. As they rehearse, Legend feels cognizant of the history of the show and freshens it with his own vocal “stylings while bowing to the original authors’ intent,” he says.

 

Every ingredient harkens back to Lloyd Webber and Rice’s intent, while pushing this new medium of musical theatre forward and hitting all the right notes. As Dixon says, “I think it’s going to translate better than any of the ones they’ve done before.”

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