By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
“Jesus Christ Superstar moves quickly, has loads of energy and emotional intensity. I think this dramatization of Christ’s final days is explosive” posted Gina Armijo following the opening night of the 50th Anniversary tour of this once shunned production.
Criticized as vulgar and blasphemous, the play was banned in several countries after it was first staged in 1971. Jesus Christ Superstar is now endeared by Catholic Popes and critics alike.
It has been 10 years since the rock musical was last staged in the U.S. It is currently playing Denver’s Buell Theatre through December 1st. It was originally a two record album that made it to number one on the Billboard music charts in 1970. It was later made into a movie in 1973 and has traveled the world ever since. It most recently aired as a live concert on NBC and featured John Legend in the lead role of Jesus Christ. That television production was nominated for 13 Emmy’s of which it won five.
The play traces the last seven days of the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. Judas, is dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples.
Jesus must be stopped! Jesus is regularly ministered to by a street woman, Mary Magdalen but what is worse, he is being hailed as the Messiah.
Judas meets with the Priests of Judaea and resulting from the meeting agrees to betray Jesus for which he will receive 30 pieces of silver in payment. Meanwhile, Jesus preaches throughout the land offering riches in the after life but not here on earth.
Pontius Pilate, a Roman Officer, dreams of a strange Galilean whose path will cross his own and cause Pilate to be despised. Jesus throws out the traders in the Temple and has a last supper with his followers when he lets Judas know he is aware of the coming betrayal. At Gethsemane, Jesus prays for strength for the coming ordeal but also for the deliverance that he knows is not possible.
When Judas brings the soldiers to Gethsemane Jesus does not resist arrest. When he is brought before Pilate, he is recognized as the subject of Pilate’s own dreams. Pilate refuses to convict him and send Jesus to Herod. Judas, meanwhile commits suicide by hanging.
Back in Pilate’s court, Herod, too, has refused to convict Jesus, but the rabble insists. Jesus is convicted and crucified.
In the program for the play, Applause Magazine, notes a time when after screening the 1973 film Pope Paul VI stated to the director, “Not only do I appreciate your beautiful rock-opera film, I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” It also states that the current Pope Francis said he enjoyed a recent stage production of Superstar in Rome.
“I remember it more as a hippie play” said Marie Stevinson who first saw the production in 1974 in New York. Hippies were the thing back then in the early 70’s and that version of the play fit into the times of those days,” she said adding “this version is quite contemporary”. Leno Duvall told Latin Life Denver that he too had previously seen the play and that this version was fresh, updated and exhilarating. “I was surprised at how agile and fluid all the performers were,” he said.
I had the feeling that many in the audience, like myself, had also seen the play before and many, like me, more than once. “I thought this version was a bit darker than others that I have seen” said one theater goer who was one of many who milled about afterwards expressing their impressions.
Personally, I remember purchasing the album after I first saw the musical when it was last in Denver in 2008 and enjoyed the music just as much this time as I did then. The orchestra was phenomenal and was not confined to the orchestra pit but was placed on the second level of the set and spanned the entire stage. The singing was clear and crisp, easy to understand. The acting was moving leaving the audience gasping at what would happen next although every one knew what was going to happen and how it would all end. The resurrection is not part of the play leaving some wondering why.
Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most famous plays about the Passion of Christ. It has been staged around the world. It is rivaled in popularity only by the famed Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany. Held only once every 10 years, hundreds of thousands flock to that city to see a nearly 400-year-old tradition. The 42nd Passion Play in Oberammergau will run daily May 16 through October 4, 2020. Unlike JC Superstar that play is not a musical and includes much of the city’s population in its cast.
‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘What’s the Buzz’ and ‘Superstar’ are among my favorite tunes although I enjoy every single one the play’s songs. With music and lyrics by Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winners Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar continues to be a super hit.
For Tickets visit: DenverCenter.org