Measured Extravagance

2001-04-11 - 9:44 p.m.

My original plans for the evening were doomed for the recycling bin as soon as I glimpsed the tv listing for Jesus Christ Superstar. I haven't seen the 1971 film, so my only point of reference is a community theater production in which Pilate was portrayed by a tall, cool alto in a lavender bustier (she was excellent), and to use that for comparison would be like trying to define a cranberry against a courgette - possibly potentially interesting, but not quite enough for me to indulge in it. I haven't had enough sleep to range quite that far afield...

My three favorite parts of this new version were Simon Zealotes' featured scene (Tony Vincent was spectacularly shiny-happy-scary), King Herod's Vegas turn (performed in the AACT production by a big hairy bear of a man in a black teddy), and the "making of" feature that followed the main video (the costume and lighting design were brilliant, and I was glad they gave tape time to the techies as well as the actors and authors).

The power of visuals: even when one knows the story, knows that the moment is coming, there's something about "seeing" a crown of thorns actually pressed into a man's head...

The power of music: the moment of JCS that always breaks my heart is the point where Judas Iscariot collapses and reprises Mary Magdalen's torch song: I don't know how to love him / I don't know why he moves me ... Andrew Lloyd Webber may be infamous for recycling his melodies over and over, but in this particular case, it's sheer bloody genius - it is so dramatically perfect it takes away my breath. It's being socked in the stomach with a song and liking it. (And credit and glory to Tim Rice, too, for conceiving a Judas that fascinates. It'd still be an interesting story even if Judas' sole motive was money, but the extra facets of the JCS character make the narrative that much richer for me.) Everytime I look at you I don't understand... ...but everytime we look at Judas, we might. Oh, yes, we might very well understand why he doesn't.

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