Back in high school, I frequently went over to a friend’s house to watch some videos. One time, one of the videos was offered up for a laugh. It was the feature film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, a rock opera based on Jesus’ final three days, as told through the point of view of his betrayer/enabler Judas Iscariot.
Oh, how we laughed at the dirty hippies and their overblown, overindulgent late 60’s dino rock. But by the end of it, something weird happened. We began to like it. Damn if the songs weren’t so … singable.
Ever since then, it’s been one of my favourite musicals, a small list, to be sure. It’s odd that I have this kind of affection for this show, given my lack of religious belief. I do, however, see religion as a key part of the larger human narrative that unites all people so that’s probably why I don’t resist seeing scripture filtered through pop culture. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own relationship to religion but its quite dull so I won’t bother you with it.
Ever since the film, the role of Jesus has been identified primarily with Ted Neeley. He appeared in the film and, 37 years later, is still playing Jesus.
The other night, I finally cashed in my Christmas present, and went down to Place des Arts to see the thing performed live. For a man in his mid-sixties, the dude can still wail, even if he’s gotten pretty grey and thin on top. The role of Judas was well handled by Corey Glover, formerly of Living Color.
Ted Neeley won’t be able to do Jesus forever, of course. When he sings the big notes, he sounds great but when he goes low, you can hear the age. Eventually, he’ll have to retire. So who could replace him at that time?
My vote goes to Jack Black: