I went to Boston last weekend to see the touring Jesus Christ Superstar. Starring Ted Neeley, who’s been Jesusing for a long time. I fear he is now a tidge too old for the part, but what the hey; for a 64-year-old guy he still has a pretty impressive set of pipes.
The real standout was Corey Glover as Judas. Apparently I would have heard of him and his band Living Colour had I listened to 80’s funk metal, or if I had paid more attention to Guitar Hero 3. Maybe I’ll seek out one of their albums, or at least play GH3 again. What’s up, though, with so many black Judases? Random chance? Subtle racism? The part is just too cool for white guys to play?
The rest of the cast was generally good as well, although much more Broadway than Neeley and especially Glover. Broadway is fine and all, but JCS is among the least Broadwayish of shows—the first recording was after all not staged at all, and had a cast of decidedly non-Broadway (or West End) actors and singers. And really I think Broadway gloss gets in the way of the panic and terror and chaos of the story. These are people who are scared and confused and don’t really know what they’re doing—and it’s hard for me to believe that in someone who has the self-assurance and practiced confidence of a Broadway singer. Give me a cast of strung out hippies and roadies, I say! Well, maybe that’s just me. And in any case Glover’s rock-star affect, and voice, made up for much.
And something else that bothered me (and explains the title of this post): everyone except Glover really seemed to be emphasizing their r’s. They sounded like Brits imitating Americans. What’s up with that? Am I so used to pretentious English choral style that I can’t take good old American singing voices?
Polish and r’s aside, I don’t mean to dis the rest of the cast here, because as I said they really were good. Tiffini Dodson (a Tennessee girl!) as Mary Magdalene and Craig Sculli as Pilate especially so.
I was struck by something that should have been completely unsurprising: how much this production sounded like the show’s various earlier incarnations. Having gone through a bit of Webber/Rice phase (how gay is that? and don’t get me started on Evita), I still pretty much have the whole thing mostly engraved in my brain, and at only one point did I experience even the slightest dissonance between the soundtrack in my head and the one on the stage. The instruments could have been canned, using tracks from the original production, and I’d never have noticed. Neeley was of course in the movie. Even Glover had a bit of a Murray Head thing going, I thought. Only Herod’s song was reworked, with a bit of a Latin beat (and some spoken dialog, the only spoken lines in the show). I’m told that productions often rework Herod a bit; it’s the only bit of levity in the show, and everyone wants to make the most of it.
I went with a largish group, and it was interesting to see various people’s reactions. Several people who didn’t know the show—these including my wife and daughter—hated it. Those of us for whom it loomed large in our formative consciousnesses loved it. One complaint I heard was that people couldn’t understand the words. I didn’t notice that, but then, I knew them all already.
Maybe people were confused by the plot as well. I’ve always thought the central conceit of the show—that Judas betrayed Jesus because he feared that Jesus’s followers were getting too noticeable, and that the Romans would step in and crush them—never made much sense to me. I just never much cared. I figured young Andrew and Tim just needed some Judas story to hang songs on, and settled for the first thing that seemed to work at all.