‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died.
But every word you say today
gets twisted ’round some other way…

“Too Much Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar

Songwriters: Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice


HOLY WEEK or Semana Santa officially started yesterday, or as it is rightly called by the Catholics, “Palm Sunday.”

It also marks the day that Jesus Christ, riding a donkey, triumphantly entered Jerusalem with his followers (we now call them today as fans) lining up the streets waving palm tree branches, hence the name “Palm Sunday.”

If that event happened today it would be at par with Miss Universe Catriona Gray or Manny Pacquiao entering “I Am Iloilo City” riding a top-down limousine with all their fans lining up the streets waving pictures or posters of their idols.

In any book, the Bible included (pun intended), Jesus Christ is indeed a superstar.

With all that foreplay, I’m sure that by this time you must be properly aroused for Holy Week. So let’s segue to looking and appreciating Jesus Christ as a star, a superstar at that.

From that free online encyclopedia a.k.a. the internet:

Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.

The musical started as a rock opera concept album before its Broadway debut in 1971.

The musical is mostly sung-through, with little spoken dialogue. The story is loosely based on the Gospels’ accounts of the last week of Jesus life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It depicts political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not present in the Bible.

The work’s depiction offers a free interpretation of the psychology of Jesus and other characters. Much of the plot centers on Judas, who is both dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples and also fearful for the harm that may result.

Contemporary attitudes, sensibilities, and slang pervade the rock-opera’s lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly contain many intentional anachronisms.

And for the uninitiated lest you get lost in translation:

An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, or customs from different periods of time.

The fact that it is a rock opera set in Israel during biblical times is the epitome of anachronism.

The album’s story is based in large part on the Synoptic Gospels and Fulton J. Sheen’s Life of Christ, which compares and calibrates all four Gospels. However, greater emphasis is placed on the interpersonal relationships of the major characters, in particular, Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene, relationships that are not described in depth in the Gospels.

All that set in rock music with no dialogue, just rock songs amidst thumping bass lines, wailing horn and guitar riffs. Just your typical rock opera, nothing religious about it.

At that time, Jesus Christ Superstar was viewed as very controversial, it was originally banned by the BBC on grounds of being “sacrilegious.”

The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying, “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Some Christians considered such comments to be blasphemous, the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of the criticisms of Jesus offensive. 

The musical’s lack of allusion to the resurrection of Jesus has resulted in criticism similar to that of fellow musical “Godspell, which also did not clearly depict the resurrection.

At the same time, some Jews claimed that it bolstered the anti-Semitic belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. 

The musical was banned in South Africa for being “irreligious.” 

A 1972 production of the play was banned in the Hungarian People’s Republic for “distribution of religious propaganda.”

Of course in time people appreciated it for what it was – a groundbreaking rock opera and it is now part of Broadway’s repertoire of stage production in this genre alongside “Hair”, “Miss Saigon”, “Godspell”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Evita”, and “Le Miserables.

What was revolutionary then is now mainstream.

Let me leave you with lines from Gethsemane, the most iconic song from Jesus Christ Superstar:

I’m not as sure, as when we started
Then, I was inspired
Now, I’m sad and tired
Listen, surely I’ve exceeded expectations
Tried for three years, seems like thirty
could you ask as much from any other man?

It was 1970 in London. Ian Gillan walked in the recording for the album Jesus Christ Superstar without much rehearsal, sang that song and went back to being the frontman of Deep Purple since then. Forty-nine years later his version is still the standard of how to sing as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. ([email protected]/PN)


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