Easter Sunday is a day to celebrate life, and NBC is doing its part by bringing Jesus to life on the small screen — well, live on the small screen, anyhow. “Jesus Christ Superstar” — the ’70s rock opera that’s dominated Broadway, toured the world, and even became a movie in 1973 — is being reimagined with John Legend in the lead role of our Lord and savior.
Billed as a staged concert, the production will air live from the Marcy Armory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y., and NBC has recruited an all-star crew to bring the beloved music to life. David Leveaux (“Nine”) is directing alongside Emmy Award-winning live television director and executive producer Alex Rudzinski (“Hairspray Live!”), Emmy- and Tony Award-winning costumer designer Paul Tazewell (“The Wiz Live!”), and the musical director of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” world arena tour, Nigel Wright.
Oh, and the cast? In addition to Legend, Sara Bareilles stars as Mary Magdalene, Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas, Alice Cooper as King Herod, Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, Jin Ha as Annas, Jason Tam as Peter, and Erik Gronwall as Simon Zealotes.
The two-hour-and-fifteen-minute broadcast is based on the final week of Jesus’ life. The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts and made its way to the stage in 1971. The 1971 musical opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway and starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas. It was nominated for five Tonys, including Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Vereen. Lloyd Webber won a Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Composer.
Below, you can follow along with the IndieWire TV team throughout the airing for our assessment of the best and worst moments as they happen.
“Jesus Chris Superstar: Live” airs Sunday, April 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
We’re just a few minutes away from the start of tonight’s event, but thanks, NBC and Steve Harvey, for easing us into it with a small child and Pentatonix singing “Hallelujah.”
OK just got here from a family Easter celebration deep in the Valley. What did I miss?
Currently rocking our way through the overture — this is way more metal than I think I was expecting from my Easter Sunday entertainment.
Some dude used propulsive red spray paint to write “Jesus” on the wall, and now here He comes…
Remember when Ryan Gosling saved jazz from John Legend?
I’d go to a concert that included crowd-surfing and free bread
(Of course, Ben. What a hero he was.)
As a heathen and JCS virgin, I had to acquaint myself with the story. This will be interesting to experience for the first time in this form. I like how the vocals are coming out. Wasn’t sure how that would play.
Mark it: 10 minutes in, and Jesus John Legend sings to His people. Hallelujah.
Mary Magdalene wants you to relax and be “Brave,” John Legend.
Yeah, the sound so far is holding up pretty well, which is good because on a technical level that’s where a lot of these live musical events run into snags (though something like “Grease” was technically much more ambitious than dudes running around a stage).
Shade comin’ from Judas! Don’t listen to him, Mary.
Mary Magdalene is basically my Headspace app. Clear your head. Be present. Shut out the voices.
According to Variety (http://variety.com/2018/artisans/news/jesus-christ-superstar-live-nbc-crafts-1202736626/), some stats: As many as 12 cameras are in use here, in front of a live audience of 1,500. 44-person cast, plus an onstage orchestra of 32.
First commercial break — anyone noticing a pattern in the ads so far? Feeling like they may be skewing more female than male-oriented?
Considering how much movement there is, as well as how many cuts, I’m impressed we’re not seeing more of the cameras on screen. Serious props to the director, David Leveaux — great blocking and orchestration of the chaos from the control booth — but credit to the men and women on- and off-stage. They’re getting some strong frames — like the shot of Judas in the darkened foreground and Mary holding Jesus under a light in the back.
OMG I love these geometric/”Matrix”-y outfits on the priests. Great use of hoods. I’ve been bingeing “Project Runway All Stars” this weekend, so I can imagine the critiques. “Nice use of textiles, but where’s the pop of color?”
Good point about not seeing the cameras. It reminds me of a recent re-watch of some “GLOW” episodes in which the cameramen around the ring kept getting in each other’s shots. How far we’ve come.
Great obvservation from the Twittersphere (and friend of the site, Pilot Viruet): “i’m glad nbc’s biggest tv events this year are ‘watch milo ventimiglia die’ and ‘watch john legend die'”
Wait, WHAT HAPPENS TO JESUS???
Crockpot working overtime, apparently.
John’s going to have to do ads for the EPA saying “Don’t blame the trees.”
Have we come up with the best descriptor yet for this aesthetic? Like, neo-future grunge?
Not sure, but it’s a pretty clever idea to use the audience as Jesus’ rapturous “followers.”
How’s John Legend so far? My sister, a huge JCS fan, was worried he wouldn’t be 70s-rock cheesy enough
Neo-Savior Savoir Future Faire
John Legend is sure hitting these notes. Certainly not taking me out of it at all.
Legend’s vocals are on point, but he’s not bringing ’70s cheese (Freddie Mercury Manchego?). He’s not flamboyant at all, but still commands the stage.
Maybe if he were wearing leather pants?
Did someone say ’70s cheese, ’cause here comes the *glitter*!!
I am not cut out to be Jesus. I totally would’ve been swayed by Simon the Zealot. And now all this debauchery at the temple looks intriguing.
THAT GLITTER WILL BE FOUND IN THEIR CREVICES FOR YEARS TO COME
Does the glitter represent… sin?
Glitter = usury, drugs, prostitution, weapons. Makes you rethink that Mariah Carey movie, huh?
Oh man, the lepers surrounding Jesus is reminding me of the zombies jumping on the horse in S1 “The Walking Dead.”
Hmmm… love the staging/foreshadowing here — Jesus being strapped to the cross by an onslaught of his over-demanding followers — but this scene might be a little redundant since I’m already convinced John Legend’s voice can heal the sick.
My lumbago’s gone.
Hanh, $$ idea — “Jesus Christ Superstar” but performed by the cast of “The Walking Dead”
Mike, but it has to be all the people who have been killed off already. (I just want Steven Yeun baaaaaaaack!)
OK damn. Sara B. really sells that song. And I hate unrequited, hopeless love.
Definitely feeling a lean towards female-oriented commercials in this.
I’m not getting that vibe, Liz. What makes you say that? (But then again, I just replenished my bourbon and fed my cat, so was distracted.)
“Ladies and Gentlemen… the cast of ‘The Voice’!”
Just been seeing a lot of laundry detergent/cleaning supplies plugged. Plus we got the Reba Colonel Sanders.
The crossover potential wasted. The spinning chairs could’ve been so dramatic.
I know people are complaining about the commercials — they break up the flow considerably — but they provide regular opportunities to check in on the Giants/Dodgers game. Jesus loves His children equally.
Are the Giants and Dodgers aligned with NBC shows as well? Can we assign them NBC shows?
Completely unrelated, but HQ Trivia is giving away $75,000 right now.
So for those wondering about who’s playing Judas — he’s the current Aaron Burr in the Broadway HAMILTON!
(Also, I nearly wrote “Aaron Paul” just then. Whoops.)
Aaron Paul in “Hamilton, Bitch!”
IndieWire Casting will be launching in 2019
So they’re advertising the album for sale now — I’m guessing this would be a prerecorded version? How sure are we that they’re all singing live?
Probably no need to mention it, considering we knew how good the cast would be as soon as they were announced, but they’re complimenting each other well. Brandon Victor Dixon has the stage presence of a theatrical star, emoting for every corner of the arena even when he’s not belting out a number, while Sara Bareilles lets her voice do the work for her, and John Legend gets into rock star mode along with the lyrics.
I was suspicious about it the vocals being pre-recorded, Liz, but the lip-syching is far too convincing? That might mean nothing. After all, we know that Chrissy Teigen has Lip Synch Battle connections. But they probably recorded a rehearsal session, I’m thinking.
I was suspicious about it the vocals being pre-recorded, Liz, but the lip-syncing is far too convincing? That might mean nothing. After all, we know that Chrissy Teigen has Lip Sync Battle connections. But they probably recorded a rehearsal session, I’m thinking.
These are the most scarves we’ve seen on NBC since “Smash.”
OK, I realized that John Legend as Jesus dresses like a male Rey from “Star Wars.”
Scarves and wine. It’s as if NBC knew who would be the target audience for this.
::Theresa Rebeck wipes away a single tear with the one she wears.::
And of course, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were exec producers on both “Smash” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Scarves FTW!
Legend HAS to be singing live. I can see him listening to himself, but it’s still so good. And shit, that falsetto high note.
Bless Chrissy for this tweet: https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/980614383616385024
Yeah, sounds live. Dude’s got pipes.
I believe I have now seen this Common ad 500 times. And I feel bad now that I can’t report back to Common that I’ve done anything new with our amazing technology.
Nooooooooo! Not the kiss!
I am impressed that the mike picked up the actual sound of the smooch.
Oh, they totally stole that from “Godfather II.”
Anyone seen the Julie Taymor adaptation of TITUS ANDRONICUS? Because now it’s all I can think about in relation to this.
Peter does not want to be part of your FB live or Instastories!
Alas, no. What’s the connection for you, Liz?
Just, the visual look.
Jesus hawking Google during commercials!
Liz, I’ll buy the Taymor inspiration as soon as puppets pop up.
Pontius Pilate looks like he belongs in “Greatest Showman.”
Yessssss, bring King Herod, please. Alice Coooooooper!
Glad to see Alice Cooper is taking the subtle approach with this role.
My wife reports that she once met Alice Cooper and he was “super nice.” He was visiting Rhino Records and took the time to say hello to every single staffer in every cubicle.
I mean, he just brought his wardrobe from home, right?
This is what he wears on the golf course, I believe
I dig the ’20s Ziegfield tone of all that.
So many scarves, tossed asunder. So sad.
CHEERS to NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” for convincing me to pop open this bottle of red wine.
Brandon Victor Dixon just melted my face off. Well done.
It’s tricky to balance that big theatrical presence, demanded by the venue he’s in, with the intimacy of a TV camera. Dixon is leaning into the former, his roots, and it’s working. NBC wanted to put on a rock show and that’s what he’s dialing into. He’s the standout among strong all-around performances.
Beyond just the vocals, I’m loving the layering in the music. What was that, synthesizer? Not a theremin (I wish).
As much as I admire the maroon textile-blocking on PP’s coat, matching his pants and gloves, that has to be sweaty.
I can’t deal with even simulated torture.
Man, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote some weird-ass musical choices early in his career. (I just saw JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT for the first time recently and I have NO idea what that was.)
Torture set to guitar licks like this is A LOT.
Oh shit. Costume change for Judas. RUDE.
Late to give notes, but I’d love for them to end this with Molly Shannon, in costume as Mary Katherine Gallagher, shouting, “Superstar!”
I have really loved the scale of the theater and how they’ve used it all night. Pretty epic, especially for these large-scale dance numbers.
Agreed, Liz. I really got a feel for the scale and energy of the performance.
Yep, this has the most energy of any of the live NBC shows, and using the theater (and showing the crowd) the way they did gave this a real exciting, live feel.
Gotta give another shout-out to the direction. This is an overwhelming production overall (I can only imagine what it was like to watch from the bleachers), and capturing as much of it as possible could’ve led to a messy, chaotic viewing experience, but everyone behind a camera tonight dialed in and framed beautiful, telling shots: a long hold on Jesus being whipped; Judas climbing up through the balcony and dropping the ladder; recreating iconic imagery like Mary holding Jesus in her lap; and then there’s the wide shots of the entire experience. This is all set on just one stage, but it’s a massive stage and there’s a lot going on. I feel like the audience was given ample opportunity to appreciate each element that brought it all together.
And holy cow look at this one. Separating the back of the stage like that, in line with the cross? That backlighting? Come *on*
Wow. Wall opening up to echo the cross motif as John Legend rises up and is spirited away, with the light behind him was incredible. Great timing, music, everything.
Fantastic finish. Could John Legend win an Emmy for this?
Sure feels like a real contender. NBC missed doing their Christmas season live musical this year, but this makes up for that. They should be really proud of this one.
I feel I appreciate the production on this more than many of the other live productions. The absolute essentials were highlighted – performance, direction, music. Maybe I’m a believer?
ARGH! I love the bows! One of my favorite parts of live performances. Nice touch. I wonder if something like this can push audiences to “Live From Lincoln Center” on PBS.
What category would John Legend be nominated in, though? They retired Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program 10 years ago.
“Hi, I’m like the Edge but 30 years younger” says the guitarist
Brandon Victor Dixon just did the Wakanda salute!!!!
Dateline following “Jesus Christ Superstar” smartly doing what appears to be an uplifting story of sacrifice during a fire inferno in Northern California instead of its usual murder porn
Keeping it classy, Dateline. Congrats to everyone involved with this one!
Well, it’s safe to say that was the best live musical since “Grease.” From a production standpoint, I’m glad to see they tried to raise the bar creatively instead of just copying what was done before. Who would’ve guessed controlling the action on one giant stage could be as invigorating as watching people rush from studio lot to studio lot? Hopefully this marks a trend of ambitious live musicals — there are a lot of stories to be told, in plenty of different ways. Thanks for reading, everyone. G’night, and praise be to John Legend.