Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Imagine a crowded rock concert. People are cheering, there are lights flashing, music blaring, and there, in the middle of the stage, is Jesus. Yep. That Jesus. The New Testament, the Messiah, you know the guy. Jesus Christ is not generally the central figure we expect in a rock show, but that's exactly what makes the 1970 Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar so entertaining.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics by Tim Rice, this play is technically classified as a rock opera, in that rock n' roll music is used to tell a theatrical story. So, it's not what you'd expect from Broadway. It's also not really what you'd expect based on the Gospels either, with the story told primarily by Judas Iscariot, the disciple who ultimately betrays Jesus, through the heavy use of 1970s slang. So, it's just unexpected all around. But, much like it's main characters and its writers, this extremely popular play has become something of a superstar itself. Ready to see it? Let's go.
Well, we've got a minute before the play starts, so let's go over some of the major characters. Although it's called Jesus Christ Superstar, the story is actually told by Judas, one of the 12 apostles. Judas is becoming concerned that Jesus is taking his message too far, and worried that he will bring the wrath of the Romans down upon the Jews.
The other main character, of course, is Jesus Christ. Jesus, in this play, is only about a week away from his crucifixion, and occasionally comes across a little tense and irritated with his apostles. The play centers around the relationship of Jesus and Judas, men who care for each other but are moving down different paths, but other Biblical characters are important as well. Mary Magdalene is the female lead who finds herself falling in love with Jesus. Peter is an apostle of Jesus who follows Christ but denies knowing him to save himself. Simon is another apostle who has a more radical stance and wants Jesus to lead the Jews into battle against the Roman Empire.
Those are the supporters of Jesus, but as everyone knows who went through a Christian Sunday School, there's more to the story. The main antagonists, the bad guys, are the Pharisees, the Jewish high priests who persecute Jesus. Their names are Caiaphas and Annas, and they see Jesus as a threat to Israel, which leads them to push for his arrest and execution. We've also got Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and King Herod, King of Galilee, who are important figures in the crucifixion story but are not portrayed as the main villains here.
Now, before the show starts, we should mention a few things about this play. It is roughly based on the Gospels, the accounts of Jesus' life in the New Testament, but most of the dialogue is not biblically founded. Webber and Rice weren't actually trying to make a religious statement here, so that's not the focus, and the reason that so much of the play relies on 1970s-style music, slang, and cultural references. The emphasis is on the relationships between friends, enemies, and followers in a pivotal moment in history as each character discovers something about themselves. And, with that, it looks like it's show time.
The play starts with Judas singing a monologue describing his fears that Jesus is becoming too powerful and that the Romans will punish him and the disciples. As Judas tries to convince the apostles not to go to Jerusalem with Jesus, the apostles badger Jesus about the future. Realizing that this is getting on his nerves, Mary Magdalene tries to help Jesus relax.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees meet to discuss Jesus' growing popularity. Caiaphas insists that Jesus is dangerous and will bring the wrath of the Romans upon all the Jewish people and rallies the other priests singing that Jesus must die. As this concludes, Jesus and his followers arrive in Jerusalem and are confronted by Caiaphas, who insists that they disband. Simon suggests that Jesus turn his followers into an army and attack Rome. Jesus rejects this idea, sad that his disciples don't understand his message.
Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate has a dream that he will be blamed for Jesus' death, as the actual Jesus arrives in the temple in Jerusalem to demand that the moneychangers leave the sacred place. Jesus is soon overwhelmed by the beggars and sick pleading for his help, and he leaves, where Mary Magdalene again helps him rest. Judas becomes jealous of Mary and goes to the high priests, deciding that it is better to turn in Jesus than let Jesus become so powerful that all of the disciples are killed. This being said, Judas feels guilty and is clearly conflicted.
Act Two begins with the Last Supper, as Jesus notes sadly how little attention the disciples actually pay to him. Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him, and that one of the apostles will betray him. Judas angrily tells Jesus to stop playing games, admits that he is the betrayer, states that he cannot understand Jesus' reckless and egotistical behavior, and leaves. Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and admits his fear to God before Judas arrives with the soldiers and Jesus is arrested. Peter denies three times that he knows Jesus as Jesus is sent before Pontius Pilate. Pilate claims that this is outside of his jurisdiction, sending Jesus to be judged by King Herod. Herod asks Jesus to prove himself by performing miracles, which Jesus ignores.
Angry, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate. As Jesus is beaten, Judas watches in terror and expresses regret to the high priests before realizing that he was chosen to betray Jesus, an epiphany that causes him to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Pilate calls the crowd hypocrites for demanding the execution of Jesus, but agrees to have him crucified in order to prevent a riot. Jesus is mocked by a vision of Judas before dying on the cross. The play ends with the apostles, Mary, and Judas each mourning the death of Christ, reflecting on their time with him. And that's it. Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 Broadway rock opera that tells the story of the last week of Jesus' life through modern rock music and contemporary slang. It is also unusual in its choice to tell most of the story through Judas Iscariot, the apostle who will eventually betray Jesus. While this is roughly based on the Gospels of the New Testament, the characters and dialogue are largely dramatized, because the point of the play was not to make a religious statement. The point was to explore the relationships between friends and enemies alike in a pivotal moment in history.
Well, hope you enjoyed the show. It may be an unexpected combination of theater and scripture, but it is a great production, and that you can always expect.
The 1970 Broadway rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is roughly based on the Gospels of the New Testament, recounting the story of Jesus during the final days before his crucifixion. With the use of 1970s slang, rock music, and singing, the story really explores the relationships between friends and enemies alike.
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Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
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