On Easter Sunday eve, a live performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar was aired on national TV. Before I watched it, I wondered if I should put on some bell bottom pants and a tie dye t-shirt to get in the mood. What’s the buzz? . . . Tell me what’s a-happening . . . . Perhaps a bit dated.
The fact that two musicals about Jesus (Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar) came to the big stage at about the same time (c. 1971) tells us of the continual curiosity and fascination with the identity of Jesus Christ and his Gospel message. Every generation must ask itself what it makes of the person of Jesus and his claim to be the Son of God.
Jesus Christ Superstar may contain some catchy, vintage tunes, but it misses the mark as a statement of faith for Christians. It is simply too shallow in its understanding of many mysteries of our Christian faith and its core beliefs.
First, depending on the visual interpretation, the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalen has regularly been questioned as inappropriate. I Don’t Know How to Love Him can certainly imply something more than simply a platonic relationship between the two. Granted, secular societies cannot grasp the value of celibacy and chastity and wonder if it is even possible. Does everyone have someone on the side? Was Mary Magdalen romantically in love with Jesus? I am sure that Jesus loved Mary Magdalen in the way that God loves us all. But to imply something further—even sexual—seems to cross the line.
The portrayal of Jesus’ apostles and disciples might be categorized as ignorant buffoons. Judas, however, seems to be the one carefully calculating, deliberately questioning and generally pragmatic in his approach to Jesus. The request by Peter and Mary Magdalen near the end (Could We Start Again Please?) seems reminiscent of a child’s do-over, once they realized the error of their ways.
Where there is an obvious lack of understanding by the creators of this musical is in the portrayal of the institution of Holy Eucharist. For all you care, this wine could be my blood . . . For all you care, this bread could be my body. While the next few lyrics become more definitive, the initial use of the word could leaves a person questioning and with some uncertainty about what just transpired. The treatment of the Holy Eucharist, in my opinion, is horribly deficient and lacking mystery.
Finally, the premise of the entire show questions whether Jesus was indeed some Superstar. Tragically, there is avoidance of any definitive statement concerning his Resurrection from the dead, and any definitive identification as the Son of God.
I realize that the creators of the musical were probably more concerned with its entertainment value and overall popularity more than any statement of faith. Jesus was portrayed like any important, influential, historical figure. However, for a believer, the musical leaves one hungering for more substance, more understanding, more faith.
To achieve this, I suggest reading and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures instead.
Fr. Ed Namiotka