Really, the title should read ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Edition’. I love that so many people loved what’s being called the most successful live musical ever – Matt Zoller Seitz called it ‘a minor miracle’. But as much fun as everyone had watching, can they fully enjoy Jesus Christ Superstar if they haven’t awkwardly sung I Don’t Know How To Love Him as an 11th-grade drama assignment, or sung ‘what’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening’ over and over on a school bus trip with a bunch of friends and thought you were the awesomest?
Part of that feeling is a little grumpiness that I – and, I assume, other musical theatre lovers – bring to the rapturous affection for the show. “Oh, now that there are awesome stars and costumes and choreography, NOW you like musicals?”
But when I get over myself, I realize that’s actually kind of good – the musicals themselves are enduring and just as relevant even if none of the people in the current production were even born when it was first staged. The costumes – all the Rick Owens and V-necks my girl Chrissy Teigen was so good to point out – were done by Paul Tazewell who also did Hamilton and my prior-to-this favourite live-TV musical, The Wiz Live.
Beyond that? Everyone’s already written that the show was best because it was a live concert aesthetic, that the staging and choreography were excellent. You could have been conscientiously objecting to the whole thing and still seen the incredible negative-space crucifixion on every social media platform.
And if you did anything other than marvel at it, then come on now.
If there’s anything about it that seems unfair, maybe it’s John Legend as Jesus. Because I mean, the man is spectacular, and he makes it look effortless. I enjoyed every bit of his performance, but maybe that’s what was supposed to happen? Is John Legend the victim of right-sized expectations? I loved his fierceness, and I never thought before about the ways Jesus Christ might have resembled Arthur, so there are revelations all over the place. If he’d been bad, there might have been a story there. If he’d chosen to go with some ill-advised long hair, there might have been the story. But ‘John Legend excellent’, as per his name ‘Legend’… well, that’s what we’ve come to expect, right? You’re going to entertain the hell out of me, and I’m going to act as though I’m entitled to that.
Similarly, Sara Bareilles was great, but… she’s Sara Bareilles. This is the kind of thing she does – sing expertly, beautifully, at the top of her game (especially that second “I Never Thought I’d Come To This” – I have a disgusting cold and I still threw my arms in the air and belted just like her) while still having enough personal anonymity to walk down the street.
But where Brandon Victor Dixon is concerned, then I think I get to be a bit smug.
When I first went to Hamilton with my husband in December of 2016, he didn’t know that much about the show (but a lot about history) and I informed him we would be seeing 'The Mike Pence Burr'. Obviously, that’s the least important thing about him, and I loved his performance that night, and again six months later with Lainey.
He’s a revelation – in a different way than Leslie Odom Jr. was. When you watch Jesus Christ Superstar, the best moments are when you see Legend and Dixon face off against each other, not speaking. The power they’re holding back is roiling below the surface.
And then when he gets to let it out, like in the Superstar number, it’s frenetic. It’s what I imagine a DJ at a rave feels. You guys, Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas gives the word ‘Jesus’ eleven syllables:
God, it is glorious.
But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some misgivings…
We love stars, we love new discoveries, and we love three-named celebrities. All signs point to Brandon Victor Dixon being the next big thing and you know that right now the Emmy Producers are trying to figure out if they have time to include a JCS number in this year’s broadcast.
But I don’t want the opportunities that open up to him to be TV and movies and have that seem like a win. They are, of course, in visibility, but who wants to see part of his superpowers be totally unused?
I’m not mad if, instead, he’s the face of a new musical movement. Or, if we’re going to do ‘conventional’ TV, he can be the face of a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend new experiment, that’s fine.
But mostly I want him, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Leslie Odom Jr, and Renee Elise Goldsberry, and hell, even Andrew Lloyd Webber to be the three-named reasons you reconsider your stance on musicals.