What's the Buzz on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE?
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert aired last night, April 1, on NBC. The show starred Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony and 10-time Grammy Award winner John Legend has been cast as Jesus Christ, rock legend Alice Cooper as the flamboyant King Herod and acclaimed recording artist, songwriter and Broadway star Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene. The cast also features Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, Jin Ha as Annas, and Jason Tam as Peter.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
David Clarke, BroadwayWorld: 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.
Noel Murray, The New York Times: As Jesus, Mr. Legend delivered where it counted, putting his rich, soulful voice to work in seamless performances of well-loved songs like "Everything's Alright" (in duet with the equally accomplished Ms. Bareilles) and "Gethsemane (I Only Wanted to Say)." Mr. Legend was less impressive as an actor. This was a song-only production, with zero dialogue, but it did require Mr. Legend to react - which he tended to do with a broad facial expression best described as, "John Legend is worried."
The powerful and charismatic Mr. Dixon more than compensated for any of the headliner's shortcomings. Given what "Jesus Christ Superstar" ultimately says about idols and the people in their shadow, it is appropriate that this production was dominated by a Broadway veteran best known for replacing Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr in the Tony-winning smash "Hamilton." This show has always been less about the titular "superstar" than about the people surrounding him.
Maureen Ryan, Variety: The musical was intensely earnest, often endearingly so. The entire cast, a multi-cultural tribe who looked as though they just left a loft party at 3 a.m. hungry for more adventure, was as energetically sincere as they could be almost all of the time. The exception was Alice Cooper, who stole the show when he emerged in an orange suit. But that adjective doesn't begin to describe what he was wearing. Cooper's threads looked like there were made out of flames - that's how vivid and pleasingly eye-popping his tailored suit was - and yet the singer easily outshone his clothes. His rendition of "King Herod's Song" was a star turn of the highest order, and a delightful amount of fun. If you can't enjoy a dapper, devilish rock-god Herod surrounded by dancing ladies clad in outfits a Vegas showgirl would kill for, then perhaps live musicals on television are just not for you. (Your loss.)
Kristen Baldwin, EW: Though NBC made a few casting missteps with some of its earlier live musicals (The Sound of Music Live, Peter Pan), with Superstar - which requires its cast not so much to act as to sing - the network wisely surrounded Legend with some spectacular theater vets, most notably Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas Iscariot, and Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate. As Superstar's other tragic figure - the conflicted, angry Judas - Dixon carries much of the story's emotional weight, which he handles as deftly in his character's quiet moments of torment ("Damned for All Time/Blood Money") as he does in his dazzling, cathartic performance of the musical's 11 o'clock number, "Superstar." Tony nominee Daniels rises above his character's unfortunate burgundy leather pants and imbues Pilate with dignity and desperation, while Sara Bareilles - who launched her own Broadway career in 2016 with the musical Waitress, which she wrote - gave the performance of the night with her intensely emotional but beautifully controlled rendition of "I Don't Know How to Love Him."
Kate Feldman, Daily News: Legend, the least experienced actor in the show, held his own with a voice that could raise the dead and enough acting chops to pull off the role - particularly during the 39 lashes - proving that NBC really does know what it's doing.
The final shot was breathtaking: The stage split into a cross and Jesus rose to his death, a beautifully lit, over-the-top, impossible message that whispered and shouted at the same time.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" was an ambitious production, and it worked. It was loud and quiet and brazen and soft and everything it needed to be.
Verne Gay, Newsday: Legend at least held his own and always does. Beyond vocal power, the role demands a physical presence as well as the presence of pain - Christ's own suffering before and on the cross. The "39 lashes" were administered with a sharp brutal snap, one after another. This "JCS" didn't pretend to ignore the brutality of the scene. As Christ on the cross recessing into the light, it didn't attempt to diminish the spirituality either, at least in that moment.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: This was a phenomenally balanced production of Jesus Christ Superstar, in which star power was equaled by depth of feeling and characterization in all the principals. And the immediacy of television, with closeups capable of bringing us in tight on the performers' faces, gave Jesus and Mary Magdalene a complexity that often is missing from conventional productions.
Dino-Ray Ramos, Deadline: With Jesus Christ Superstar, NBC is two for four when it comes to their slate of live musical events. Many would like to forget Peter Pan Live! and I still can't get the vision of Carrie Underwood singing "Do-Re-Mi" while on a stage filled with a crimson tide of flags from the Third Reich. Jesus Christ Superstar is on par with The Wiz, giving a non-stop entertaining musical event that stays true to the source material while giving the perfect amount of contemporary appeal.
Jen Chaney, Gazelle Emami, Jesse David Fox, and Jackson McHenry, Vulture: Judas was always the real star of the show, and Dixon's glowering, raging, Aaron Burr style made it all the clearer, right up through the messy, sweaty, furious suicide. Bonus points for all the times he had to seethe with anger while resting amidst the scaffolding. Super extra bonus points for absolutely killing "Superstar" in his sparkly pants and tank, the best performance (and look) of the night.
Lorraine Ali, LA Times: It was Legend, Bareilles and Dixon who carried most of the production. Lending their pristine voices to the key Jesus and Mary Magdalene numbers so many of us remember being slaughtered in our high school productions of the play were Legend and Bareilles, whose names are more akin with the pop charts than the theater (though Bareilles just finished a Broadway run as the star of "Waitress," the musical for which she wrote the Tony-nominated original score). The two singers weren't as animated as the multiple dancers and performers who shared the stage, but they brought the songs to life for a modern audience without forsaking the original charm of the numbers.
Hank Stuever, The Washington Post: Redeeming itself from an overblown first half and having its energy continually sapped by frequent commercial breaks, NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert" was saved Sunday night by its emotional climax, as Brandon Victor Dixon (as Judas Iscariot) delivered an unforgettably raucous take on the show's title number and John Legend (as Jesus) floated away on a cross into an impressively ethereal light display.
Mark Perigard, Boston Herald: Broadway veteran Brandon Victor Dixon stole the show as Judas. He was a swaggering figure stalking the stage, spilling fury and resentment as his Apostle betrayed the Savior and came to regret it.
Instead of the fairly static camera work typical of the NBC live shows, these cameras moved, sometimes more than the ensemble themselves, using light and angles to capture beats within the songs in this two-hour-and-23-minute production.
Bruce R. Miller, Sioux City Journal: Because Leveaux didn't limit the action to a proscenium stage, his "Superstar" had the ability to draw on everything from "Rent" to "Hamilton." It had plenty of dancers and musicians, more scaffolding than most New York construction sites and some camera angles that will get other cinematographers to rethink their vantage points.