Jesus Christ Superstar - Live in Concert, on NBC
A.V. Club; Facebook; IMDb; NBC; TV.com; TV Tango; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: none that I know of
A live performance (on April 1, 2018), of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 1970 rock opera, of which I've never seen any other production. (There was also a 1973 film, which I also haven't seen.) So... every year since 2013, NBC has aired a live musical in December... until 2017, when the December event was skipped, so that the next musical could air the next Easter, instead. This is also the first of their musicals to add the phrase "live in concert" to the title, instead of simply "live." And it's the first of their musicals to be entirely sung-through, with no spoken dialogue. Personally, I prefer to have some dialogue, because it helps understand exactly what is going on... especially considering I couldn't make out all the words that were sung. Of course, it helps that the musical is based on such a familiar Biblical story. Without prior knowledge of that, I might have been completely lost. I also should mention that most of the actors were unfamiliar to me, being Broadway actors, or whatever. I was kind of familiar with John Legend, who played Jesus Christ, and Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene), and Alice Cooper (King Herod).
At the start, Judas is concerned about the way things are going with Jesus's movement. As I said, I couldn't make out all the words, so I probably missed some details of why he was worried. It seemed to me that it was mostly about Jesus's followers being more interested in Jesus as a celebrity of sorts than in his actual message. (If that's the case, it seems particularly relevant these days, since so many people who call themselves "Christians" have strong opinions on various issues that are actually the polar opposite of Jesus's teachings.) But I also vaguely got the impression Judas wasn't happy about Jesus associating with Mary Magdalene. Whether or not I understood either of those points correctly, there was probably more to his concerns that I failed to catch. In any event, Jesus didn't seem to heed Judas's warnings... though he must have been troubled, himself, about something, because Mary had to ease his mind more than once.
Eventually, Judas goes to the Pharisees, who had their own reasons for wanting to put a stop to Jesus's movement, which threatened their control of the people and their way of running things. They offer Judas payment for information that would help them find Jesus (which I didn't really understand, because I never got the impression that Jesus or any of his followers were hiding). Judas doesn't want the money, he just wants... well, honestly, I'm not sure what he wants. But he gives them the information, anyway, and does end up taking the money. Later, Roman soldiers arrest Jesus, and take him before the local Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn't seem to have a problem with Jesus, and certainly didn't want the responsibility for putting him to death, since he hadn't really committed any crimes. (I found it a bit odd that the show doesn't have the two actual criminals who in the Bible were crucified alongside Jesus, but I suppose they weren't important for this version of the story.) But apparently a lot of common people wanted Jesus to be crucified, which I didn't really understand. I got the impression they were supposed to be Jesus's own people. Not his disciples, but Jews, anyway. They all seemed to be upset about him ostensibly calling himself their king, and they claimed to only recognize Caesar as their king. Though I feel like that was more of an excuse for the typical human mob mentality and macabre desire to watch an execution. I don't really know; like I said, actual dialogue would have helped me understand the story better. And another point I didn't really get was how Jesus kept saying "That's what you say I am." I think he was referring to the title "King of the Jews," and implying that he never called himself that. (I'm afraid there's a great deal I don't actually remember about the actual Biblical story, so it didn't completely help me follow the story of the musical.) I just wish Jesus would have been more clear about what he actually did claim about himself, if it wasn't what his accusers were claiming he said about himself. (As it stands, I couldn't help thinking his line had a vague ring of "I know you are, but what am I" about it.) Anyway, Pilate decides to let King Herod deal with Jesus. And that particular song was actually pretty funny and fun. (It had a sort of Vaudeville feel.)
Well, of course Jesus is ultimately crucified. I was a bit surprised that that's where the show ends; there is no resurrection. Although I did kind of see John Legend's return to the stage during the curtain call (sans curtain) as a "resurrection" of sorts. (I'm rationalizing.) Although I kind of appreciate the lack of an actual resurrection in the story, on a certain level. There doesn't really seem to be anything that categorically confirms Jesus's status as the Son of God, or a miracle worker, or anything supernatural. I think it's nice to leave it as a matter of faith. (If you actually saw him perform miracles, wouldn't that sort of make "faith" a moot point?) Moreover, I think his message was ultimately more important than whether or not he was truly divine. Basically, he didn't want people to be obsessed with fighting, and money, and stuff like that. (Which, again, is pretty relevant these days.) And... maybe he didn't want to be treated like a "superstar," even if he frequently seemed to revel in all the fun his followers were having (before the arrest). And I must say, even if I didn't always know what exactly people (especially ensembles) were actually singing and dancing about, I did think the chaos of it all was pretty fun. But the more intimate, personal songs were pretty great, too. I really liked Mary's songs, both because Bareilles has such a nice voice, and because of the emotions conveyed. (There was at least one song where Judas pretty powerfully conveyed his own feelings of guilt, even if his singing there wasn't so pretty. I thought it made sense that he didn't really sound good, at that point. Though elsewhere in the musical, his singing was pretty good.)
Anyway, I guess I don't know what else to say. I probably would have rated the musical higher if I had a clearer idea of everything that was going on. But I thought it did a very good job of being what it was.