Go inside this production of Jesus Christ Superstar with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
2. Heaven on Their Minds
3. What’s the Buzz?
4. Strange Thing, Mystifying
5. Everything’s Alright
6. This Jesus Must Die
8. Simon Zealotes
9. Poor Jerusalem
10. Pilate’s Dream
11. The Temple/Make Us Well
12. Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
13. I Don’t Know How to Love Him
14. Damned for All Time/Blood Money
1. The Last Supper
3. The Arrest
4. Peter’s Denial
5. Pilate and Christ
6. Herod’s Song
7. Could We Start Again, Please?
8. Judas’s Death
9. Trial by Pilate/39 Lashes
12. John 19:41
Welcome to Lyric, and to an extraordinary adventure in our exploration of iconic works from the world of Broadway.
Up to now in our “Broadway at Lyric” series, we’ve concentrated on American classics. This season, however, for the first time we’re producing a work that didn’t originate in this country. It’s also our first production of a rock opera – in fact, a work that was central to the whole idea of rock opera: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Audiences everywhere have embraced this piece for so many reasons. There is, first of all, the overwhelming drama with which Lloyd Webber and Rice depict the last days of Christ. There are the powerful characterizations of the central figures – Jesus, Judas, and Mary. Above all, there is the stupendous score that offers one memorable musical number after another, from the exhilarating “What’s the Buzz?” to the touching “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the hair-raising “Gethsemane,” and, of course, the stirring title song. The show is filled with an innovative and very exciting mix of musical styles, drawing on rock, gospel, folk, and funk themes. With the combination of orchestra and rock band, not to mention dazzlingly high-energy dance, the piece’s cumulative impact is electrifying.
We’re thrilled that Lyric will be presenting the American premiere of one of the most triumphantly successful stagings that Jesus Christ Superstar has ever had. The production by director Timothy Sheader, artistic director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London, premiered there in 2016. It was received with enormous acclaim by critics and audiences alike, and its triumph was confirmed with the hugely prestigious Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. By popular demand it was remounted at Regent’s Park the following summer, with audiences again responding to it with immense enthusiasm.
The production reminds us that this is a truly unforgettable piece. It has made an amazing journey, from its beginnings as a “concept album” on LP in 1970 to the stage premiere on Broadway, the London premiere that ran for seven years, the justly celebrated film version, and hugely successful presentations over the past four decades at venues large and small all over the world.
We hope Jesus Christ Superstar will thrill you, move you, and leave you eager to return to Lyric Opera next season.
General Director, President & CEO
The Women’s Board Endowed Chair
David T. Ormesher
I was attracted to Jesus Christ Superstar because of the music on the original album. I knew the odd track, but when I listened to the piece as a whole, I fell in love with it. This is a seminal work in musical-theater history. Those young men were listening to Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and David Bowie. Through a concept album, they created a theatrical experience, and that’s what led to the thinking behind this production; the conductor and I listening as one might listen to an album.
I haven’t approached the show as a linear/ naturalistic retelling of the Passion, because it’s not; some of it is made up, and all of it is from the point of view of one particular character. It’s not weighed down by dialogue, which helps to retain an abstractedness, an epic quality. Our production is more about authentic music making than strict narrative telling. It doesn’t set the show in a recognizable locale and period. The costumes, for example, were based on a response to clothes we saw being worn in the neighborhoods we live and work in; these in turn are influenced by performers such as Kanye West. They also suggest silhouettes of ubiquitous religious garments we recognize throughout millennia.
I’m less interested in Jesus as a character and more in the performer who is singing the role. The casting took so long because throughout the auditions, we were looking for individuality and authenticity. We worked hard to assemble a group whose voices complement each other. I never looked for actors, whose greatest strength is playing somebody else.
Regarding the design, we considered a lot of contemporary images of crucifixions, of people lashed to makeshift crosses in the Middle East. A lyric that stands out for me is “He’s a man, he’s just a man”; we wanted the crucifixion to be brutal – a man whose bones are broken and who is painfully suffocated. This would be juxtaposed with a heightened majestic ending; as we turn the broken runway cross we have danced on all evening into a luminous golden icon, akin to those we pray to or wear around our necks. A glorification of this man’s death.
I suspect that this is the most choreographed Jesus Christ Superstar to date. There aren’t many musicals where you have to dance with this level of ability while singing these harmonies. We couldn’t carry non-dancing singers or non-singing dancers. My original direction was that this should feel like a cross between a dance concert and a music gig. I didn’t want to see people standing around talking in naturalistic tableaux.
I’m interested in the mob mentality, in how people work as groups, in what we do to individuals, be that in religion or in society at large, and what we sometimes do to artists and celebrities. There’s a lot of uniformity in the choreography – disciples, choosing to follow one person. They’re all together, with a passionate, dynamic quality to the movement, expressing firstly their joy and ecstasy, secondly their violence and anger. There would always be a big group, a tribe, coming together like putting on a Passion Play, to tell this story through music and dance.
We never thought of body mics – it was always hand-held. That was a very early decision. I wanted to honor the period in which the piece was written. One nice thing we heard a lot was that the show didn’t feel dated, it felt contemporary. Hand-held mics were to take us back into the gig environment. They helped people in rehearsal, so they could stop acting. With Jesus in “Gethsemane,” I said, “I just need this to feel like you wrote the song – it’s a song for you and your guitar, to sing at a gig.”
One of the great joys of doing the production in Chicago is the orchestra. I don’t believe a three-week run of Jesus Christ Superstar has been done with an orchestra of this size. I hope Lyric audiences will be exhilarated by the music and thrilled by the electricity of the performances. Because of the gig-like quality of the production, we’re able to create a really strong connection between performer and audience, so they’ll feel present and almost as if they’re part of a live music concert where you might not be sitting down. I’d love to direct this show in a production where everyone could stand up!
Timothy Sheader, Director
Edited from a conversation with Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines, March 2018.