Saturday, January 11, 2014

Film(ish) Recommendation - Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Live Arena Tour Recording)

I tried to keep this one short...no dice. I just had so much to say! Did keep it pretty focused, though.

Back in my Musical Masterpost, I mentioned the brainchild of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim RiceJesus Christ Superstar—with emphasis on the 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison. I also briefly brought up the 2012 recorded adaptation (live in the London O2 arena) starring the incredibly talented Ben Forster, Tim Minchin, and Melanie Chrisholm as Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene respectively. This post is just my way of recommending the hell out of it. It doesn't not matter if you haven't seen the original, aren't familiar with the story, or if Christianity isn't really your bag. This production makes that sort of stuff irrelevant, instead forging the story as a contemporary commentary on the power struggle between 'the people' and those in power. Just watch it. Go and watch the initial version, for that matter. It is a brilliant piece of rock opera, so props to ALW & Rice.

Not Rated. Who needs ratings, anyway? Not Jesus Christ, apparently!

This production celebrated the musical's fortieth year since opening on Broadway, but by no means was it rutted in the past. The conceptualization was completely revamped and modernized (activist protesters v. rich businessmen in the information era), so it will keep any internet-aged mind interested from violent start to sorrowful finish. That isn't to say this version is not loyal to the original script, as any fan of the film could still enjoy this even considering the very slight scenic departures. For example: In the 1973 film, the biblical story of the cleansing of the temple takes place in a market that, amongst other things, sells drugs and firearms. The arena tour goes further and turns it into a sort of rave strip club: a literal house of sin that actually suits the design's overall innovation quite well. Another difference involves the last supper, which is more relaxed (meaning that it's not da Vinci painting-esque) and fits in better with the rest of the production. On a more subtle level, the concern-rooted animosity between Judas and his best friend is more easily understood in the modern adaptation due to the realistic portrayal of mortal emotion.

ALW's story always humanized the Son of God, but because Forster acts more fed up with his fate and seems less likely to forgive betrayal, the audience can better connect. This is also true of Alexander Hanson's Pontius Pilate who is much less insulting toward/loads more conflicted about Jesus than he was in the original film. Minchin's Judas—all my due love to Carl Anderson—simulates an incredibly riveting descent into guilt-fueled, suicidal insanity, going so far as to deliver an unprecedented but well-deserved punch to Caiaphas's face before losing his veritable shit and lamenting his treachery with a rough rock n' roll voice—echoes of which can be heard in his earlier lines at the end of "The Last Supper," or even "Damned for All Time / Blood Money," and "Heaven on their Minds." Mel C (yeah, of Spice Girl renown) pulls off Mary's songs, too. Her urban voice lends a sort of grittiness that makes her character mesh well with the ensemble yet, at the same time, is sweetly melodious. It sets her apart from the rest of the apostles and solidifies her role as the Magdalene. Forster is a newcomer, but the ways in which he showed off his impressive range and handled "Garden of Gethsemane" was beyond admirable. [I found it interesting that the lyric "God thy will is hard/But you hold every card," was changed to "God thy will be done/Take your only son." This implies it is not exactly 100% certain that Jesus truly accepted his destiny even after that release of extreme emotion. Some of the lines in that song were spit out rather petulantly, too: "Alright, I'll die/Just watch me die!" Methinks it makes for a more believable father/son relationship.]


Grunge Judas reasons with himself, Annas, and Caiaphas.

Enough of me sounding like a randomly praise-flogging reviewer. Alverno English fanatics especially will like this most recent incarnation simply because of the symbolism. Judas carries around different brands of burden as portrayed via his rucksack and constant noose of a scarf. Also, rather than have Christ see the imagery of his own crucifixion—as he does in the original film—his best friend is the one who experiences those iconic flashes of future suffering during "Judas' Death." Mary 'sheds' her former life (in the form of a leather jacket) during "I Don't Know How to Love Him," which reveals more of her pure white dress. Holiness, much? Pontius Pilate dons a judge's wig and formal parliamentary court dress, symbolizing law and the right to exact execution. King Herod emerges wearing a crushed red velvet suit on his game show (we all know what the colour red means when it comes to liturgical antagonists), and the Jews wear business suits and drink bourbon as a show of wealth. Production designer Mark Fisher wanted to "Communicate two worlds...the world of the establishment and the world of the crowd," so he came up with the very simple architectural symbol of a staircase. Those in power build up so that they can stand above the little people while those in a state of unrest rise up to fight. The entire stage has a series of stairs built upon it: brilliant.

Jesus' pattern of ascent and descent along those stairs is dependent upon his sense of entitlement (or lack thereof, relatively speaking). This gives viewers an inside look into his mental standing during specific intervals of the the story. Certain bits from the initial film were retained, too, in a way. Scaffolding—like that built around the ruins of Avdat in Israel—can be seen encompassing the sides of the stage that house the live band. Both versions of Christ stretch out their arms in the form of the cross and are cast in heavenly light at the end of "Garden of Gethsemane." A major digression I noticed, though, was during the outro piece, "John Nineteen Forty-One." The entire cast of disciples returns to their original positions from the overture—an act that serves as a metaphor for their dedication and Jesus' continued presence even after the death that he so feared. In the '73 rendition, however, everyone but Jesus gets on the bus as they leave the site of his crucifixion.* Mary and Judas linger a bit. Both adaptations are rather tragic.

*This film is set around the idea that a group of performers
travel to Israel to re-enact the Christ Passion.
Consider the 4th wall at least partially broken.

If you don't 'get' symbolism, don't want anything to do with religion in general (comme moi), don't enjoy musicals, or don't desire to analyze the ever-present problem of people v. power...then do watch this production for the sheer relevancy of the relationships. At the heart of this performance are the interactions, friendships, and struggles between individuals who possess varying ideals. If you exist in this world, then you will be able to connect with the story at least on that very basic human level. Also worth mentioning is that the story is not so much a case for the 'love of Jesus' in Christianity and all that guff as it is helping the downtrodden. Who doesn't want to back that idea? Besides, most religious groups consider the play to be blasphemous. Woo, controversy!

*wild applause*

Welp, there's my reasoning for recommending JCS. 's all I've got. Enjoy!

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