Wednesday, December 21, 2011


A band of young people in ragged clothes slips through the darkness trying to escape officers clad in black, who are  masked in visored helmets and body armor. The band are advocates for justice and peace, sensitive to the needs of the poor and oppressed. It's hard not to see the clear parallels between the action on the bleak stage, and the protests on the streets right now.

 The group has a visionary young leader, and a politically savvy activist as his right hand man. But the activist is becoming worried that the leader is starting to believe his own hype, with delusional claims that he is the Son of God. "You're going to get us all killed!" warns the activist.  Is the leader David Koresh? Or is he Jesus Christ? How can you tell?

 The new production of Jesus Christ Superstar is on its way to Broadway from Canada's Stratford Festival, by way of the La Jolla Playhouse. It is, simply, brilliant--one of the best musical productions I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot, not just regionally, but on Broadway and living for 4 years near London).

 BP and I found it particularly moving to see the show the week before Christmas, with the concept of the incarnation, of God made Flesh, so central at this season. (I don't have to believe it to be aware of it).  And Superstar forces you to wrestle with Christ the Man as purely human, and thinking about how he felt and how he appeared to those around him in the last week of his life. We know everything that happens… yet somehow it has a new twist, in this rock musical format. There's no deus ex machina here, no indication of anything beyond the grim politics of the real world. And there's something a little mad, a little out of control, in this man, so that one can understand the repetitive basso profundo motif "He is dangerous" from Caiaphas and the other high priests, and concerns over Christ's transgressive rule-breaking.

Indeed Jesus isn't that likable, and certainly not perfect. We can relate much more to Judas, the pragmatic activist, who is much more grounded in the Real World.  By contrast, Jesus seems distant. Those parables are annoying and complicated. Why is he talking about his father, when we're dealing with a political occupation?   He recoils in a very human way from the mob of grotesques, lepers and deformed folks hounding him and pleading to be healed. He gets hot and hungry, and he can't sleep, and its hard not to agree with Judas, that this God thing is delusional, because you can't see it.

 But as the familiar story winds to its inevitable conclusion (compellingly staged by director Des McAnuff) the fact that it IS totally incarnate, here and now, gives it an immediate and visceral power.  You experience the story in a different way. You warm up to Jesus. This is a man, only a man, being tortured and executed in a brutal, awful way. (The show ends with the execution).  He may be pleading to his father, but there's no father to be found.

And as I said at the beginning, it's hard not to draw explicit links between the Roman soldiers dressed like SWAT officers who are beating Jesus, and the police on our streets spraying pepper spray and beating the OWS protestors, extraordinary rendition, and waterboarding.

We wept (yes, even I--it's that good) and leaped to our feet at the end to give a standing ovation.  God isn't to be found here-- not in any conventional sense. But Christ is, and you'll meet him in a different way that makes you really grasp the concept of incarnation.
  If you get a chance to see this show please see it.


JCF said...

Thanks, IT!

Merry Christmas, to you and BP.

IT said...

BP loved the show too, but had a somewhat different take on it. She found God very present. Well, as I pointed out to her, she would! ;-)