NBC’s Easter Sunday production of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” was, as the young people say, doing the most.
This musical threw together glitter, sequins, leather, writhing hotties, a few big performances pitched to the last row, and camerawork that often felt as though it was hopped up on too many lattes. Actually, the ragged edges of a unifying concept did emerge over the course of the NBC musical’s two-hour-and-20-minute running time: If its philosophy could be summed up in one word, “excess” would just about cover it.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But this live show was a lot.
The musical was intensely earnest, often endearingly so. The entire cast, a multi-cultural tribe who looked as though they just left a loft party at 3 a.m. hungry for more adventure, was as energetically sincere as they could be almost all of the time. The exception was Alice Cooper, who stole the show when he emerged in an orange suit. But that adjective doesn’t begin to describe what he was wearing. Cooper’s threads looked like there were made out of flames — that’s how vivid and pleasingly eye-popping his tailored suit was — and yet the singer easily outshone his clothes. His rendition of “King Herod’s Song” was a star turn of the highest order, and a delightful amount of fun. If you can’t enjoy a dapper, devilish rock-god Herod surrounded by dancing ladies clad in outfits a Vegas showgirl would kill for, then perhaps live musicals on television are just not for you. (Your loss.)
he musical played out on one big stage, which at different moments became the haunts of the ruling classes, the Garden of Gethsamene, or the hangouts of Jesus and his disciples. But despite the energy of the youthful ensemble — or perhaps due to the chorus’ occasionally punishing eagerness — a lot of the best moments of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” were solo turns.
When the center stage was occupied by former “Hamilton” cast member Brandon Victor Dixon, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” was generally mesmerizing. Dixon gave heft, complexity and a majestic fatality to his Judas, who is perhaps the most coherent and even sympathetic character in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 rock opera.
Dixon’s voice was piercing and urgent as he contemplated betraying Jesus, and the actor’s work was stunning just before Judas committed suicide, a gut-churning act that was staged cleverly and effectively. (Judas ascended a ladder, and when the ladder fell, it was clear that he had taken his life.)
But spiritual doubts and moral struggles were often overshadowed by bursts of exuberance, even in a few places in which a more measured approach might have been called for. That said, it was hard to resist Dixon’s masterful charisma when Judas returned a short time after his suicide. Rather improbably, he was accompanied by three backup singers who were made up to look like Diana Ross and the Supremes. What did a ‘60s girl-group vibe have to do with the final hours of Jesus of Nazareth? Well, what were showgirls in fishnets, evil rulers in long, geometrical hooded capes and a Pontius Pilate in leather pants doing in this show? Who really knows?
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