Huw Thomas on musicals and Jesus…
Andrew Lloyd Webber has begun his search for Jesus.
No, the good Lord isn’t seeking our Lord. He’s looking for a singer to play the part of Jesus in a big production of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
Let me confess from the outset, I’m a Superstar fan. Gospel meets cheesy 70s, faith and flares…love it! However, the casting of someone to play that role makes me a little uneasy. The idea of the public voting on the person to represent Jesus brings home the fact that this talent show has greater symbolic significance than Pudsey the Dog, and leaves me a little uneasy.
There is a history of duff Jesus portrayals. If you want one good reason for avoiding having an actor take that role I give you two words: Robert Powell. Miserably pasty faced he whinged his way around Galilee for hours of telly time in the 70s. He did have the requisite piercing eyes for a telly Jesus, staring at the crowd to sit down and eat in their 5,000s. Otherwise, there was more life in the fish.
Move on a bit later and Willem Dafoe did a tortured ‘Last Temptation’. This self-professed fictitious idea of Jesus being given a chance to live an alternative life made for a fascinating film, but with all the controversy at the time I remember sitting in the cinema worrying that some fundamentalist had planted a bomb under us and we’d all be going up with the ascension.
Mel Gibson’s Jesus divided audiences. For me it was just a gore fest where, as with all horror, you spend more time marvelling at the prosthetics and thinking “That looked real!”
As for the ‘Miracle Maker’, I liked the story and the language but that Jesus seemed to shout everything he said. No wonder Jairus’s daughter sat up, he’d put the fear of God into her.
It’s all about taste. For me the BBC’s ‘Passion’ was outstanding, ‘Godspell’ breathed a bit of life into the story and I still find ‘Jesus of Montreal’, in which the actors of a Jesus play become the characters in a modern retelling, thought provoking. But amongst all these ‘Superstar’ stands out for one particular reason. As a kid, the impression I had of Christianity was hugely influenced by depictions of Jesus as a miserable drip with a far away look in his eye. Then I saw ‘Superstar’ at the cinema in Bridgend. The way he cleared that table, stuck up for Mary Magdalene, answered back to the authorities and, particularly, took the way of the cross – although at the time it didn’t clinch Christianity it was the best shot I had to date.
I just hope the good Lord Webber finds someone equal to the task
Huw Thomas :: May 2012