On Easter Sunday, singer John Legend will star in the latest version of "Jesus Christ Superstar," a live production of NBC. Rock opera is one of the most frequent productions in history, but when it premiered on Broadway in 1973, many Christians, Jews and even the composer hated it.
The opening night "was probably the worst night of my life". It was a vulgar parody, "said Andrew Lloyd Webber later.
It did not start that way.When he was a teenager in London, Webber, who was already an aspiring musical theater composer, met the budding lyricist Tim Rice. His first collaboration, a musical about the founder of an orphanage, did not go anywhere, but his second work, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" – a new version of the story of the "coat of many colors" in the Old Testament – called them attention.
What to do for follow-up?
"We were playing with various subjects," Rice told NPR in 2012, "and I think it was the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral who said : "Why do not you think about the Jesus story?" "
Ted Neeley played the lead role in the 1973 film version of" Jesus Christ Superstar. "(Universal Pictures)
Rice he was interested in the story of Jesus' life, but not exactly in the pious way in which the dean was probably thinking.
"I always thought that, if I ever became a writer or whatever, it would be a good subject, Judas Iscariote, the story from his point of view," he said in the documentary . The creation of & # 39; Jesus Christ Superstar. & # 39; "
Once the young people had written rock opera, they struggled to find a theater willing to produce it
" I mean, every producer in London said: "You have to be kidding. This is the worst idea in history, "Webber said in the documentary.
They decided to record the songs and release them as a concept album, using the same label that The Who's conceptualized" Tommy "last year.
When it came out in 1970, "Jesus Christ Superstar" failed in England and was even banned briefly by the BBC for being sacrilegious, but in the United States, it was a great success.Suddenly, there was no problem finding a producer , although crossing the pond, an adaptation to the stage rushed to Broadway the following year, where he set a record at that time for the anticipated sale of tickets.
And that's when the problem came in. Many Christian leaders thought that the version Jesus' modern day was quite wonderful, some even incorporated it into Bible study clbades, but others condemned it as blasphemy.
Religious critics discretion They stopped with the device that Rice thought would make it interesting: the focus on Judas' point of view. A Baptist preacher told the New York Times that it should be called "Judas Superstar."
Others were scandalized because Jesus was described as a "simple man" and that he and Mary Magdalene insinuated more than friendly feelings to each other. .
William A. Marra, a professor at Fordham University and a Catholic, told the Times that it was "stupid" for Catholics to allow "Jesus to be blasphemed."
The Jewish leaders also expressed alarm because the musical did it appear as if the Jews were responsible for Jesus' crucifixion, which they feared would revive anti-Semitism.
In fact, some Catholics, Protestants and Jews joined as piqueteros, protesting outside the theater for days after the play was opened.  Once Webber saw the striking production of director Tom O & # 39; Horgon, who presented a bold and multi-ethnic cast, a great "chrysalis" of special effects and even a drag queen playing King Herod, he might want to join the piqueteros.
D Despite being Webber's first musical of 23 years, he found it difficult to hide his misery. This is how Guy Flatley of the Times described the scene when he asked Webber and Rice for a review:
A gurgling noise comes from somewhere inside Andrew and his sad brown eyes roll towards the sky. "That's a very difficult question to answer," he finally says. "Let's say we do not believe that this production is the definitive one."
"I really enjoyed the show," says Tim.
"Well, it's not the way I imagined it," says Andrew. . "I saw it more as an intimate drama of three or four people."
"We are just a couple of English boys and we do not know Broadway," announces Tim. "But we think it's good entertainment on Broadway."
They categorically denied any anti-Semitism, with Rice exclaiming:
"Norman Jewison, who directed & # 39; Fiddler on the Roof & # 39 ;, will direct the film & # 39; Superstar & # 39; – in Israel Now, if someone could detect anti-Semitism, do not you think it would be the man who directed & # 39; Fiddler on the Roof & # 39 ;? "
Webber ended up hating the 1973 film as well.
The Anti-Difamation League renewed its criticism for the premiere of the film, a spokesman who gave the Times this phrase that now provokes chills: "Even the casting is of the most primitive type". Anyone who has seen cowboy movies knows that good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear blacks. Here the actor who portrays Jesus is blond; Judas is black. "
(In the original Broadway production and the film, Judas was played by African-American actors Ben Vereen and Carl Anderson, respectively.)
Small" Jesus Christ Superstar "protests have followed many productions in their history of 48. But none have met in an organized movement, the dreaded wave of anti-Semitism never materialized, and in 1999, the Vatican officially approved it, including a production in its jubilee year 2000 celebrations.
Sara Bareilles as María Magdalena and John Legend as Jesus Christ in the NBC live production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." (Virginia Sherwood / NBC)
On Sunday night, both Jesus and Judas will be played by black actors: Legend as Christ and Brandon Victor Dixon as his traitor Alice Cooper will play King Herod
Webber has been heavily involved in rehearsals, which increases the chances that he really likes him.  9659033] So far, nobody protests.
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