Thursday, 6 June 2013

in response to the new Jesus Christ Superstar production

Finishing the story with the crucifixion, for one thing, allows the story of Jesus to be told on a secular stage, for an audience of any faith or none, it seems to me. Jesus Christ Superstar is the story of a man people believed to be a particular revelation of God. The story doesn't tell us that he is God, as the Gospel accounts of the life, death (and resurrection) of Jesus do. JCS is also the story of a man - Judas - disillusioned with the leader he follows, who turns out not to be the leader Judas expected. This story is a story of expectations, of hope, betrayal, and of power.
In its telling this time around, the backdrop is the 21st Century West, with the global financial crisis and anti G8 Occupy-type riots and protests, Guantanamo Bay looking prison walls, and concrete city steps. It is fast-paced: too fast at times, with a seeming fear of silence - silence which might actually have allowed the audience and actors the space to feel the emotions, transition from one mood to the next without leaving anyone behind. Occasionally, the actors did settle into their roles: Mary, moving into her 'I don't know how to love him' was too quickly done, feeling almost forced, rather than having a flow that was allowed to happen naturally, and Jesus' emotion in the garden only broke through half way through the song.
Am I being picky? Yes. It is my story - not Jesus Christ Superstar, and not my story alone; but the story of Jesus is I and my fellow people of Christian faith live by, dream by, die by. I tell this story, I study this story, I understand this story from the perspective of it being part of our sacred story.
But as we talked today in Old Testament Wisdom Literature class, about the appropriation of traditions surrounding ancient Israel, and the emerging Christian churches, and how images, language, stories, changed shape in order to say something new for a different people in a different time and place, tday in Old Testament Wisdom Literature class, someone asked - if that is acceptable practice, what about the secular appropriation / adaptation of Christmas for its new traditions? Is this what JCS does?

I liked the Temple as nightclub (and thought of the church buildings that have been transformed into nightclubs in our city); the suits of the Sanhedren, the gods of the media to which Herod bowed down - another Rome of our time - these things all made sense, all advanced the poignancy of the story, either JCS or the gospels of Jesus.
I was moved by Tim Minchin's bold, agonised Judas, and the flogging and dying of Jesus; thrilled by the use of visual and digital media to embed the story in our time, and bring the performers closer for far away audience members; delighted at the use of props such as the tents that unfolded as thrown into the air; I marvelled at the resounding depth of the voice of Caiaphus and the passionate melodic screams of Judas and Jesus; and overall, I did enjoy the portrayals of both Jesus and Mary.
Overall, I loved this production - I just would have loved it more had there been more subtlety, pause, silence.

I did wonder at portraying suicide of Judas on stage for the Australian audience. With one of the most alarming per capita rates of suicide in the world, there is such a high likelihood of that being too confronting and close to home for a significant number of audience members.
I did wonder what a sequel telling the resurrection story might look like, how it might be received ...

Finishing with the crucifixion, do I as a person of Christian spirituality, leave disappointed, for the story isn't fulfilled?
Do I see in this unfullfilling of the story a comment that Jesus is still being crucified age after age?
Do I hear a call like that at the end of Mark's gospel account - that the story is not finished - it is over to you now. If Jesus is to be known as a living and continuing presence in our world, it is over  to you.

1 comment:

Cogs said...

Thanks Sarah!
I was fascinated to also see this musical Jesus Christ Superstar during the week.
I had seen once a long time ago before I became a Christian and to me who didn’t know the original gospel story it made no sense at all.
Although I had heard of Jesus, I really didn’t know who the characters were-let alone anything about them

So I was quite interested to go some almost 40 years later, with some better knowledge of the Christian story to see it again.
What would I make of it this time?

I love the production and visuals which I thought was brilliant. Tim as Judas was intense, focused and brilliant.

Yet, I am still not sure that the plot actually holds together without a lot of background knowledge!

As I watched an enormous crowd of people steaming out of the packed Entertainment center
I wondered what people made of it. Or were many just dazzled by the production?

The play doesn’t explain why Jesus is a threat and certainly the Jesus portrayed certainly wasn’t! Even as an everyday person, the Jesus portrayed was pretty ineffective, it would have been hard to believe he was leader of a inspired revolution let alone a man of deep faith who encouraged others to see God.

Thank you for your blog have pinched the end quote for my sermon :-)