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BWW Review: NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT is Invigorating, Imaginative & Wonderfully Inspiring

BWW Review: NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT is Invigorating, Imaginative & Wonderfully InspiringAfter sitting out the 2017 holiday season, anticipation for NBC's return to the live musical game ran high. The choice to present Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on Easter Sunday seemed obvious. Then, they packed the cast with stalwart veterans of the Billboard Top 40 charts and Broadway stage, which added fuel to the pyre of excitement. Luckily, as millions of people tuned in on Sunday night, viewers were treated to the best televised musical since this medium was revived in 2013.

The familiar strains of the electric guitar at the start of the "Overture" were played by a person of color, which began this production with powerful imagery. That scene quickly grew into a mighty spectacle as the camera panned down the looming set besieged with scaffolding. Then, a quartet of women on strings took the stage before the large cast flooded the performance space. The energy in these opening moments set the tone for the dynamic performance that held audiences transfixed throughout the evening.

John Legend as Jesus benefited from reorchestrations that favored his pop/R&B skillset, and he performed the role with aplomb. His soulful, smooth baritone is so different from the likes of Ian Gillan, who originated the role, that it took me a minute to adjust to it. He owns the evening from his first entrance to the beautiful way they staged his final exit. This is especially true during the hit song "Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)" where he keenly employed his instrument to give raw emotionality to the performance. My only qualm was his lackluster flip into falsetto after pristinely rocking a raspy belt in his upper register. Undoubtedly, with this production, Legend has skillfully recreated and redefined the role for himself and a new generation.

BWW Review: NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT is Invigorating, Imaginative & Wonderfully InspiringAs Judas, Brandon Victor Dixon is a divine force to be reckoned with. His distinctive and unique spin on "Heaven on Their Minds" set the tone for the whole production, showcasing how the pop/R&B vocals can blend with the rock score. As the show progressed, he continued to best his own performances time and time again. Dixon's "Damned for All Time," which closes Act I, is a true showstopper as was his utterly brilliant rendition of "Judas' Death," where he pristinely utilized well-timed vocal cracks, belts, and sobs to convey the emotional duress of Judas. Closing the show, his "Superstar" was a crowd-pleasing sensation.

Sara Bareilles stayed true to her signature style of signing, letting her perfected soulful musicality breathe spectacular life into the classic showtunes "Everything's Alright," "I Don't Know How to Love Him," and "Can We Start Again, Please?" Her entire persona was genuine and heartfelt across the evening, ensuring that the love Mary has for Jesus is palpable. Norm Lewis nimbly tackled the extreme range required for Caiaphas, employing his fantastic rattling bass and utilizing his charming tenor. Likewise, Alice Cooper made fantastic use of the understated staging of "King Herod's Song" to showcase his undeniable and majestic stage presence and cherished vocals. Ben Daniels was delightfully arrogant and combative as Pilate, but, out of the cast, he seemed to have the most trouble with the singing.

BWW Review: NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT is Invigorating, Imaginative & Wonderfully InspiringMost importantly, the live audience during a televised musical was finally handled correctly by these TV studios. They were never in the way or tedious like they have been in GREASE and HAIRSPRAY. Instead, the energy the audience gives was received by the cast and given back tenfold. The only complaint I have about the audience in this production is that the live sound mixing around the screaming was a touch problematic at the top of the show when some lyrics and music were completely lost to cheers overpowering the mics.

There is truly so much to love about NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT. The medium of live televised musicals really feels like it has finally started to gel with this production. From the cinematic use of camera angles, to putting women musicians front and center at the top of the show, to the TV news-like camera captures during "The Arrest," to the epically staged disappearing cross after the crucifixion, and more, this production felt invigorating, imaginative, and wonderfully inspiring. For diehard musical theater fans, this is the quality of performance we have been waiting for since 2013, and I can't wait to see how the studios continue to improve as they delve deeper into these kinds of presentations.

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From This Author David Clarke

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