Jesus Christ Superstar [1973]

Before Andrew Lloyd Webber took over Broadway with his operatic productions and Tim Rice tossed in his lot with Disney's animated musicals, they were the young turks of musical theater and their rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was their calling card. Director Gale Edwards's 1999 stage revival, which became the basis for this video production (also available on CD), takes the show out of ancient Jerusalem to an indeterminate mix of modern New York (complete with graffiti-scrawled walls and T-shirt garbed disciples) and timeless Rome. The grandly abstract sets, rainbow lighting, and striking costumes are more theater than cinema, but like the previous made-for-video Lloyd Webber-Rice production Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the enormous soundstages give the director free reign to combine the mediums. The setting folds fascism, intolerance, and revolution into a portrait out of time, robbing the play of its powerful historical grounding but injecting it with energy and insight. As Christ, Glenn Carter (who played the role in the 2000 Broadway revival) flashes his anger and rolls his eyes at Judas (Jerome Pradon) but cannot deny the truths of Judas's fears: "Every word you say today gets twisted 'round some other way." As Christ sees his cult of personality overtake his message and struggles with the fears of his sacrifice, he reaches within for faith and forgiveness, giving the show the spiritual dimension it so often lacks. It's an entertaining, thoughtful, and well-sung production. Edwards avoids the tepidity of Norman Jewison's solemn 1973 film, driving forward with energetic editing and swooping cameras, and guided at all times by the dramatic, exhilarating score. --Sean Axmaker

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