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Monday, April 29, 2013

JESUS CHRIST, A SUPERSTAR SACRIFICED






These are the two most resounding lines from the chorus of the popular song taken from the movie Jesus Christ Superstar, “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. Who are you, what have you sacrificed?” As the finale song of the movie/rock opera is sung; the viewers are left with this very intriguing question as to the importance of the Man and His Mission.

To my mind, the clear answer to this perplexing issue raised by the chorus is obvious, that Jesus had sacrificed His Humanity to the point of death to proclaim His Divinity (His Resurrection). This is the central theme of the movie/rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, where men are unable to accept His Human/Divine status, when Jesus declares that He truly is the Son of God.

The movie had its initial screening in 1973 as Jesus Christ Superstar the movie. Celebrating 40 years since it first opened in Broadway and at London's West End, this entirely new and re-conceptualized musical production was recorded in video as Jesus Christ Superstar 2012; a rock opera concert tour performed live at the London Arena in 2012 where it was, well received and acclaimed by appreciative audiences.

Timothy Rice was the brilliant lyricist who wrote the Scripture based lyrics focusing on the final years of Jesus’ Mission before His Passion and Death, while the entire musical arrangements were magnificently composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber who had originally intended it to be a rock musical play.

In the movie adaptation, the location setting being typically conservative was filmed in expansive deserts and mountainous terrains to project a realistic feel indicative of the times of the Passion. The costumes and hairstyles of the cast were also reminiscent of 1973 when the hippie culture was the popular trend of that generation.

In the rock opera live version, an updated 2012 look was presented with the glamorous cast dressed in elegant costumes such as designer jackets, suits, overcoats, heavily accessorized with trendy communication gadgets. Also the presence of a massive video screen as background wall was efficiently utilized to project visual settings appropriate to relevant events; being alternately useful to highlight the more important scenes from the performers.

In the movie screenplay, Ted Neely was cast to portray as Jesus Christ, Carl Andersen as Judas Iscariot and Yvonne Elliman, who was personally chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber for the role of Mary Magdalene. The 2012 rock opera version presented for its performing ensemble; Ben Forster as Jesus Christ, Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot and Melanie Chisholm as Mary Magdalene. 

Interestingly, Ben Forster was a show finalist, appropriately chosen by the viewing British public from the ITV primetime program Superstar; a reality based talent-search competition TV show launched by Andrew Lloyd Webber on May 16, 2012 in his quest to find the best artist to play the lead role in his forthcoming Superstar Live Arena Tour.

Since its initial live presentation as a London stage play in 1972, Jesus Christ Superstar celebrates 40 years of successful theater performances. The movie adaptation as directed by Norman Jewison was subsequently released in cinemas worldwide for viewing appreciation of international audiences. Fortunately, 40 years thereafter, both opera/movie masterpieces are available in standard and high-definition Blu-ray digital video format for video enthusiasts. 

The final years of Jesus Christ as its central theme is magnificently portrayed by the powerhouse cast with stunning performances; further enhanced with definitive melodious pop-rock musical arrangements. Inspirational lyrics are brilliantly interspersed with powerful melodies, such that the harmonious messages are effectively reinforced upon the viewers with repetitive choruses.
 
Undeniably, the opera version is quite difficult to execute as there are no re-takes and the musical accompaniment is performed live with precision by a full ensemble orchestra. New technological advancements have also greatly contributed to the enhancement of the soundtrack's superb multi-channel digital audio. With the utilization of digital video equipment, the visual presentation is finely detailed in high definition clarity, a welcome eyesight candy.

Jesus Christ Superstar is the story of the humanity of Jesus Christ. It portrays the human side of Jesus as he experiences the different facets of human emotions of love, fear, anger, hurts, doubts, frustrations, and abandonment. This human aspect of Jesus is portrayed in the play from the point of view of the closest people around him.

Judas Iscariot in his self-proclaimed status as the right-hand man of Jesus offers him unsolicited advice on how He should go about with His Mission. The ever supportive Mary Magdalene explores her undeclared love for Jesus singing, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” in which she professes her human inability to comprehend and express the proper and reverent way to love the Divine Jesus.

And the reluctant Pontius Pilate who demonstrates his apprehension to sentence the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion; exploring other possible ways to reduce His sentence by having him flogged 39 times. Ultimately not receiving a defining response from Jesus finally forces Pilate to give in to the clamor and approves the death sentence with his regretful chorus, “Die if you want to, you innocent puppet.”  

Jesus Christ Superstar is about the humanity of the Son of God who typifies any other human mortal experiencing doubts and uncertainties in the trials of life. The lyrics of Tim Rice and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber rightfully portrays the human side of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane scene where Jesus dares to ask God for enlightenment and questions why He should die and if it is possible for Him not to drink the cup of poison.  

The Gethsemane portion was the most intense and passionate part of the musical. It expresses the magnanimity of the Divine Love of God for all of mankind; who despite the petition of Jesus to withdraw the cup of suffering; didn’t withheld His very own Son from mortal death for our sake.

In the 1973 movie, this particular line where Jesus expresses, “God, Thy Will is hard, But you hold every card.” was craftily substituted in the live opera version with “God, Thy Will be done, Take Your only Son”. And as Jesus sings His troubled Heart out to the Father, he concludes it with a willful resignation of an obedient Son by declaring, “Take me now, before I change my mind.”

Simon in his overwhelming devotion to Jesus the Superstar, as their newly proclaimed political Messiah declares, “You’ll get the power and the glory, forever and ever.” Surprisingly, Jesus downplays His Superstar status in response to Simon and the crowds with this perplexing chorus, “While you live, your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem. To conquer death, you only have to die, you only have to die.” Jesus emphasizes that human death is inevitably a necessary phase for His transition from humanity to full Divinity.

Another interesting portion of the musical was the intimate appeal of His followers for Jesus to reconsider His decision from proceeding with His Passion as Mary Magdalene and Peter the Apostle leading the chorus, “I think you’ve made your point now. You’ve even gone a bit too far, to get the message home. Before it gets too frightening, we ought to call a halt. So could we start again please?”

In retrospect, this song “Could we start again please?” is also an intimate invitation for the viewers to reconsider reconciliation and avail of the Sacrament of Confession, where we are reconciled with Jesus and are given a new start for a new life with Him. The ultimate reward of His Sacrifice is our Redemption, and the very reason why Jesus lovingly offered Himself to God the Father, in atonement for our sins.

So there it is, the very act of His Supreme Sacrifice is what makes Jesus Christ a true Superstar, the Name that is above all name.  Jesus willingly sacrifices Himself, His Life, His Humanity to proclaim His Divinity triumphantly. By His death, he has conquered death with His Resurrection and His Divinity is gloriously proclaimed and reaffirmed by God who decrees that from henceforth all authority in heaven and on earth is given to His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ, Superstar, Son of God, you truly are. You have the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.”


EDWIN L. YAP
Makati City, Philippines