Here are my humble reflections about NBC’s Easter offering of the live opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The production was terrific, with inventive staging and what looked like flawless performances by the entire cast. “Hamilton’s” Brandon Victor Dixon was strong as Judas (he played Burr on Broadway, so he has the role of a betrayer down pat), and John Legend was a sympathetic Jesus, especially in the haunting Gethsemane solo, “I Only Want to Say.”
However, if you want to own a recording of the show, you’re better off going back to the original brown double-album where Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Murray Head offer powerhouse vocals that can’t be rivaled.
In the past 48 years Christians have rightly criticized the play/recording/film for being blasphemous, and the critics have a point. There are errors throughout, and the portrayal of Jesus is just dead wrong in spots. But I first heard it as a 15-year-old kid just back from a mission stint in Thailand, and I’ve been forgiving those lapses my entire adult life. Here’s why.
Despite all the unbiblical moments, the story triumphs in the closing moments. At the NBC finale, as Jesus is up on the cross, the lighting and the stage props slowly fold into a Calvary cross that clearly seems global and eternal. All the cast members peer at the spectacle in wonder, clearly moved by the reality that something otherworldly has just transpired in their lives. In fact, the closing lines Judas sings in a last query to Jesus are these: “Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake? Or did you know your death would be a record-breaker?”
And why is the death of Jesus a record-breaker? Because it redeems a lost and suffering world, that’s why? Because it purchases our salvation as no other death ever has or ever will.
The other wonderfully redeeming moment is when Judas is about to end his own life. (The original recording is chilling indeed at this point.) Beside himself with grief and guilt, Judas sings plaintively: “Does He love me too? Does He care for me?” And the blood-spattered reply is yes. In the upper room, Jesus washed the feet of this broken betrayer and His heart ached for a man who would not, could not surrender to Him.
Some of the most tawdry stories you’ll ever find are in the pages of the Bible, and they still contain redemptive hope. The same was true on our TV screens last Sunday evening.