Jesus Christ Superstar at the Saenger
Jesus Christ Superstar is a blast from my teen past.
Jesus Christ Superstar
We saw Jesus Christ Superstar at the Saenger Theater last night. It was the first time I’d seen the opera live. That made for some interesting thoughts on my part. Andrew Lloyd Weber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) wrote and scored a wonderful show. I can see these two having drinks or some such, talking about the success The Who had with “Tommy” just a couple of years earlier. The libretto was easy and well-read: The Gospels. It’s no surprise that they couldn’t find financial backing to do their opera as a stage production. Albums are cheaper, so off it goes. Sound familiar? Think Hamilton and oh so many productions in between.
Catholic school teens
By the time I got to Brother Martin as an eighth-grader in 1971, Superstar wasn’t on my radar. New Orleans was one of the cities presenting an unauthorized/unlicensed production of the show. Still, as an thirteen-year old, my focus was on the Fab Four/Wings, and a lot of Mowtown on AM-pop (WTIX). I can’t remember which of the girls from St. Angela made a pitch to base the music for a Mass around Rare Earth’s “Celebrate,” but that was as controversial as things got.
While “Superstar” exploded with the release of the album and opening of the production on the West End, another “Jesus” musical, “Godspell,” opened off-Broadway in 1971. Now, Stephen Schwartz was no slouch, going on to create Pippin and Wicked. Godspell also had the appeal of being “more Christian,” if you will, than Tim Rice’s lyrics. So, you saw Catholic high schools producing Godspell more and more. I bought both albums in the summer of 1974, when I worked at the Breaux Mart on Severn and had disposable income. That was when my Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) phase kicked into high gear, listening to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer nonstop.
By my UNO years in the late 70s, Superstar was pretty much off the radar for me. Local high school productions of Godspell were commonplace by then, and I knew folks who did that show. That continued all the way to my band-parent days, when Dominican did the show and several of my kiddo’s friends were in the pit. When Superstar came to town, we usually passed, saving the money for other shows.
So, this season for “Broadway Across America” included the 50th anniversary production of Superstar. It’s part of the subscription. Why not? At this point in time, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations or demands from the production. My biggest curiosity going to the theater last night was, how were they going to handle the music? I kept coming back to Yvonne Elliman’s beautiful singing in the original cast album, and the strings kicking in on “Everything’s Alright.” They made it work.
Go see the show. It’s fun.
(Side note: For having never seen the show live, this soundtrack stuck with me lo, these fifty years. When the Magdalene sang “Everything’s Alright,” I had to remind myself I wasn’t at a Jimmy Buffett concert, and singing along like a Parrothead wasn’t appropriate.)