NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert starring John Legend that aired on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 was a good production.
John Legend in the title role was effective. Was he the best performer to take on the role? No. But he was good.
What hurt Legend most was his lack of high range. He opted to not do the signature high parts of several songs, which detracted from the overall production. Still, he did do a good job with the elements of the songs that he felt comfortably fit his vocal range
The title role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Time Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is a difficult one. There are two film versions available. A 1973 version starred Ted Neeley as Jesus. A 2001 straight- to-video film starred Glenn Carter as Christ.
Including the 2018 live concert staging, Neeley provides the best vocal interpretation of Jesus. However, overall, I prefer Carter’s interpretation of the Son of God. A lot of this has to do with the ingenuity of directors Gale Edwards and Nick Morris of casting a blond haired, clean shaven Christ and set him in a post-apocalyptic setting.
In the most recent incarnation of JCS, Brandon Victor Dixon struck a powerful figure as Juda – physically intimidating, which I think played in his favor. My only complaint about Dixon is that his voice is beautiful – like liquid crystal. The beauty of his voice made him less effective than the raspy quality of Carl Anderson of the 1973 film. Not only was Anderson’s film performance definitive of the role of Judas, I also got the chance to see him costar with Neeley in a national theatrical tour which cemented him in my mind as the quintessential Judas.
The true standout performance of the 2018 live concert was Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate. His performance was flawless and head and shoulders above any previous actors to play the role on stage or film.
Rock God Alice Cooper made an interesting and amusing King Herod. At times he seemed uneasy in the role and seemed to struggle remembering the lyrics to his one signature song (King Herod’s Song). By the end of the song, though, he seemed to find his lyrical footing and had some enjoyable interactions with the audience.
As Mary Magdalene, Sara Berellis was well cast. She showed off an impressive voice augmented by acting a full range of emotions. Like Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Berellis turned in the best interpretation of her role to date.
Like the 2001 film, the 2018 live concert set the action of the musical against a futuristic world – more punk than its apocalyptic predecessor.
The ensemble was good, in not overly impressive. And the rock orchestra was spot on perfect.
Overall, the live concert version of JCS was enjoyable. My favorite interpretation of Webber & Rice’s work? No. But worth watching.
Peace. Love. Trust.