'Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert' Gets a Raw Update, Complete with Mosh Pit

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29 March 2018

NBC, April 1, 8:00 PM ET

By Jeff Pfeiffer

“It’s pretty amazing that now I get to have my name on it as a producer,” Neil Meron says of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, his live, three-hour musical production for NBC that will air, appropriately, on Easter Sunday (April 1).

“In 1971, I saw it [on Broadway] five times. And then, I think I’ve seen just about every [major] production, including the film. … Superstar’s always been a part of my life.”

I am speaking with the producer during the first of six rehearsal weeks for the production. Bits of music and singing from those rehearsals, taking place right outside Meron’s office, occasionally drift over our conversation as he recalls how Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic rock opera based on Gospel accounts of the final week of Jesus’ life has affected him ever since he first heard the original concept album in 1970.

That album became a Tony-nominated Broadway production and a Golden Globe-nominated film. A few of the songs from the sung-through piece (which contains no dialogue) — notably the title tune “Superstar,” and Mary Magdalene’s yearning ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” — have become familiar to many who may not have even seen any of the productions.

This production, which also boasts Webber and Rice as executive producers, includes some powerhouse names: Music superstar John Legend, who is also producing, stars in the divine title role; Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles is Mary Magdalene; and legendary rocker Alice Cooper portrays King Herod.

Rounding out the major figures in the cast are Hamilton alum Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas Iscariot, Tony nominee Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Tony nominee Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, Broadway vet Jason Tam as Peter, M. Butterfly star Jin Ha as Annas and Swedish rock star Erik Grönwall as Simon Zealotes.

Meron explains that Webber and Rice wanted this incarnation “to be somewhat raw and somewhat stripped down, which kind of ruled out any sort of theater or any sort of modern arena. [Brooklyn’s Marcy Armory] made the most sense because you have this old building, this raw space … [where] you can come in and put in this concertlike seating and kind of make it your own. And it is very raw, so it just lent to that authenticity of presentation.”

This “rawness” will include interactivity with the live audience, Meron says.

“We’re going to have, like, in front of the seating area, somewhat of a mosh pit, where you could think of [the audience] as followers of Jesus when you need them to be.”
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