This was our church choir's annual theatre trip, and one old lady was worried it might be heretical and lead youngsters astray. I have heard the rumour before that the show is faintly blasphemous, though it's a mystery to me why. Is it the open-to-interpretation kind of closeness between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? The broadly sympathetic treatment of Judas, from whose perspective most of the play takes place? The rather self-doubting Jesus represented, a Jesus who gets a bit fed-up with all the attention and ends up telling the crowds to piss off (albeit in more Christlike language) and thinking his mission has gone well and truly down the pan? Certainly Jesus Christ Superstar presents us with a more human, down-to-earth, ambiguous Jesus than tradition has often portrayed. But blasphemous or heretical?
The only thing I could imagine was that we were going to get to the end of the show and discover that Jesus remained in his grave, his mission a miserable failure. Ironically, the ending was the only disappointing thing for me -- this Jesus certainly did rise from the dead, but it was all over and done with so quickly, the inattentive might have missed it. This Jesus is restored miraculously to life, appearing on stage in dazzling, stunning white, but it's too abrupt, and there's no real build-up, or any sense of connection with what's gone before. The resurrection felt like one of those "I woke up and it was all a dream" endings that you write when you're seven. It felt almost hasty and tacked-on.
Still, as an encore, the company reprised the most hummable of Lloyd-Webber's tunes from the show -- not the relatively tacky title song, but Hosanna, a number I hadn't heard before -- and it made a rousing and moving end to the show. I loved how when Jesus emerged from the tomb he embraced Mary on one side and Judas on the other, although I don't know whether that was in the original script or peculiar to this particular company.
The highly human Jesus was complemented by a highly human band of disciples, who are heard to muse at the last supper, "Always hoped that I'd be an apostle/Knew that I would make it if I tried/Then when we retire we can write the gospels/So they'll still talk about us when we've died." That's one way to look at it, I suppose.
What other delights did Jesus Christ Superstar hold? Well, Herod was hilariously camp, like a pantomime dame, with his servants hitching up their togas to dance the can-can in the background as he challenged Jesus with such inspired taunts as "Prove to me that you're divine - change my water into wine" and "Prove to me that you're no fool - walk across my swimming pool". The score moved from lilting guitar ballad to heavy rock to funky psychedelic without any hint of disconnection.
If this one comes to your area, check it out. Wonderful.