Those of you who know me know I am a sucker for a good rock opera. The Who, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Neal Morse-they bring me so much joy. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is no exception. The theme work is phenomenal. The melodies are memorable. The characters are (for-the-most-part) well portrayed. And, as a Christian, I feel the story is portrayed very well. That being said, there are a few things that really get to me every time I listen to this wonderful opera. So, without further ado, here are Five Things I’d Change About Jesus Christ Superstar.
1. Jesus is not portrayed as God the Son.
Christians believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man: an impossible miracle. The problem with this opera is that the “fully God” part is purposefully omitted from the character of Jesus. The lyrics of “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)”, although I absolutely love the song, are a bit on the sacrilegious side of things. Without getting into theology, I will boil it down to saying I wish Tim Rice had chosen a more Bible-centered portrayal of Jesus, especially considering much of the dialogue in the opera is pulled directly from the Bible. I suppose I could understand wanting to portray more of the “man” side of Jesus, but earlier in the opera we have already seen Jesus performing miracles, “dropping” omnipresent wisdom, and being Biblical Jesus in many ways, so why leave out an essential part of the character?
2. The Last Supper
Pretty much all of it. This song is a seven minute debacle that is actually comical in several places. The only memorable melody from this, the longest “song” in the opera, is the apostle’s melody, which is completely negligible because of the inane lyrics. Also, I put “song” in parenthesis because it is a nearly unfollowable mashup of miniature song-ets which don’t have any melodies or substance. And of course, the climax of this track is a hilarious exchange between Jesus and Judas that you could imagine taking place at recess in an elementary school. The truly disappointing part is that the last supper is such a powerful scene in the story of the last week of Christ. It is a shame that this track is so poorly done. Also, an omission from the Last Supper Scene leads me to my next point.
3. We Need More Simon Peter!
Peter’s three denials of Christ is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible, and we do get a minute and a half transitional song that includes the denials. However, it is hardly satisfying. I know that Judas and Jesus are the two main characters of the opera, but Peter is an incredibly important character. Aside from “Peter’s Denial” the only singing we hear from Peter is a “drunken-stupor” intro to the reprise of “What’s the Buzz” during “The Arrest.” If it were me writing this opera, I think I would have cut the Jesus/Judas interaction in “The Last Supper” (which never takes place in the Bible) and included a short conversation between Jesus and Peter introducing the denials so it would have more impact when we hear Peter deny Christ.
4. Pilot’s Wife Should Be A Character
This opera is a total Dude-Fest. The only named female character is Mary Magdalene and she, essentially, has one and a half songs. Pilot’s wife is an extremely interesting character and, in the Bible, the content of the song “Pilot’s Dream” is pulled from her dream. So… why cut an interesting female character from your opera that has only one woman character who is hardly a lead? And, they already wrote a song for her, so……….
5. Why is Herod such a Fruit Cake?
King Herod was pretty much a hard-A by all accounts. So… why is he such a fruitcake in this opera? I’ll tell you why. “King Herod’s Song (Try it and See)” was pulled from a previous unsuccessful attempt at a musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. This explains why the song sticks out from the opera like a sore thumb. Similar to the Last Supper, this is such a cool scene in the story. I wish there were a cooler song to go along with it.
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I freakin’ love Jesus Christ Superstar. It is, by all accounts, a masterpiece. I would be thrilled to be involved in a production of it someday (or even direct my own and correct a few of the things listed above). If you haven’t heard the opera ever (or in a long while) I highly suggest listening to it!
If you have any thoughts on Jesus Christ Superstar or any other rock operas, feel free to comment. Have a wonderful week and enjoy wonderful music!