Jesus Christ Superstar: The Story of Jesus In Song

Hera Serna, Staff Writer

Music. It’s part of everyone’s culture and has made a very large place in everyone’s life. When it comes to music, it doesn’t seem to disappoint by giving us an emotion or even making us feel better about ourselves. Musical theater embodies the same emotional feel. Musical theater can even impact the way audiences think about a large social issue. A musical that made a large impact was Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical opened on Broadway on the 12th October in 1971. It was directed by Tom O’Horgan, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Ben Vereen as Judas and Bob Bingham as Caiaphas.

Our rock opera starts off in the perspective Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, as he worries that the followers of Jesus are getting out of control and may be seen as a threat by the Roman Empire. During his worry, the other apostles anticipate going to Jerusalem with Jesus and ask him about his plans, but Jesus tells them not to worry about the future and his plans for them. Meanwhile Caiaphas the High Priest of Israel, assembles the Pharisees and priests in order to speak to them about how he fears that Jesus and his followers might become a threat to Rome. Caiaphas concludes that for the greater good, Jesus must be killed, cue the song, “This Jesus Must Die. Judas seeks out the Pharisees and proposes helping them arrest Jesus. In exchange for his help, Judas is offered thirty pieces of silver which he initially refuses but accepts when Caiaphas suggests that he can use the money to help the poor. This is such a powerful scene with Judas, his confliction and betrayal are really felt in, “Damned for All Time/Blood Money.” Judas betrayal is the most important part of this musical as it puts him in the view of not a bad guy in our story but a man who was blinded and confused. Judas then feels the guilt of killing christ and watches as families cry in his name. His grief stricken state leads him to his demise,  but not before singing “The Death of Judas”. The Musical goes through additional parts of the Gospel, including the last Supper to finally our conclusion with the epic “Superstar” disco flare showcase and “The Crucifixion,”a somber, yet, jazzy song.

The Broadway and later film were criticized by many religious groups who claimed that the character of Judas was too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus were offensive. At the same time, some Jews claimed that it supported the anti semitic belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death by showing most of the villains as Jewish and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. This created an outrage on both sides as many fans believed that the musical deserved more than it had been dealt.

The show came to a sad close on the 30th of June in 1973 after 711 performances. The production received mixed reviews; the bold casting of African-Americans as Judas was praised, but reviewer Clive Barnes from The New York Times said, “the real disappointment was not in the music … but in the conception. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Score, but sadly won none. Lloyd Webber won a Drama Desk Award as “Most Promising Composer”, and Vereen won a Theatre World Award.

Jesus Christ Superstar is amazing. The story is fantastically told through powerful lyrics and great disco-esque songs. As you hear the performers sing you can’t help but feel the pain Jesus went through or feel sympathy for Judas. The musical had made a large impact on not only the lives of others but also the entertainment industry itself. Many fans were sad to hear that the show concluded in 1973 but to fans relief the musical has been performed once again. Now on it’s 50th year, Jesus Christ Superstar is making its way back in the industry with a new cast but the classic songs.