Jesus Christ Superstar review

A review of the show Jesus Christ Superstar
By David Lock

April 2020 will be remembered as the time of the Covid 19 Lockdown. Half the
population of the world was confined to home to reduce the risk of the Corona Virus
getting out of control.
Many entertainers came to our support and screened impromptu concerts from home;
either live or uploaded onto various social platforms. Andrew Lloyd Webber did us a huge
favour by releasing one of his musicals each weekend from April 2020 on the YouTube
channel, “The show must go on.” I am very grateful to him for that as I love his shows.
The show released for the Easter Weekend 10-12 April 2020, was a 2012 production of
Jesus Christ Superstar. I had never seen this show before, it was frowned on in the
society I grew up in. However, I watched it with my teenage children on Saturday night.
While watching it I knew why I was not allowed to watch it when I was younger. There
was so much about it that disturbed me, not least of which was thinking about Jesus’
ministry in the context of heavy rock music and the idea that Jesus was the head of a
hippy-like movement.
I felt I needed to speak through the experience with someone, to analyse and evaluate my
emotions as much as the show itself. I discovered that my brother in law and missionary1
had also watched it. We had a WhatsApp chat about it on Easter Sunday and below are
some of the thoughts we had. I have combined them together as coming from both of us
below.
By way of introduction, we do recognise that Jesus Christ Super Star is a secular show
written by people who do not claim to be Christian. They have a different agenda in
presenting Christ than we have. So this is less a critique of the show or its writers, but
more our analysis of the show from the perspective of our belief in Jesus Christ as the
Lord and Saviour of the world.


What we liked about the show
There was a realness and rawness about the show. The character’s personalities were
displayed in all their complexity. You felt like you got to know the characters ‘warts and
all.’
The show did a really good job specifically of describing the characters of Annas,
Caiphas, Herod and Pilate as they could have been in a more modern setting.
Annas and Caiphas really wanted to get rid of Jesus, there was a lot at stake for them.
Caiphas was really nasty, with a deep, deep voice that was quite scary. You didn’t want
to be on the wrong side of those two powerful men. Not so much was at stake for Pilate
and Herod. Pilate was more interested in playing tennis than executing justice. Herod as
1 My brother in law has asked to remain anonymous in this article due to the
nature of his work and where he lives.
a game show host was hilarious and revealed the hedonistic passions Herod Antipas no
doubt had.
As I read through the Easter stories as recorded in Luke and John in the lead up to Easter
this year, my conclusion was that it was the crowd that killed Jesus. They were the ones
Pilate wouldn’t take on. He wanted to disappoint Annas and Caiphas. Herod was just a
joker and Pilate really did know that Jesus was innocent. But the crowd was too
dangerous for Pilate to disappoint. We felt the show demonstrated that truth.
A crowd is a powerful and dangerous thing! This was the same crowd that worshipped
Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Yet at Jesus’ trial they had
been persuaded to change allegiance, and they forced Pilate’s hand with their continuous
cries of “Crucify him, Crucify him!”


What challenged us in a positive way
The Judas character in the show is obviously really disturbing in terms of the biblical
reading of Jesus’ story. Judas is the betrayer in the gospels, however in the show he is
pretty much the hero. Unquestionable we disagree with the show in this regard.
However, it raised an interesting question for us, When we get to heaven and sit down at
the feast, the table, and then Pilate, Herod or Judas arrives and sits next to us… How will
we feel? Would we say something like, “How did you get in here?” “You had the chance
to save Him… But you didn’t take it.” The show challenged our emotional response to the
scandal of grace. The extent of God’s mercy and the injustice we feel about it.
We were both challenged by how the show contextualised all the disciples. #thetwelve
was the show’s description and how modern is that! It made us wonder what social
media would say about Jesus if the events occurred now. We suspected it would have
been a modern day bloodbath. An online bloodbath. People would have the freedom to
say what they wanted from the ‘safety’ of their keyboards, where they lose the perception
of what is going on in reality, where they are removed from the stark reality of the injustice
of what is happening.
The contextualisation of the show in the hippy era was interesting because it was
disturbing. If Jesus had come in the 60s, would his movement have looked like a group
of hippies? And what about now, what would Jesus’ movement have looked like if he
had come now? We have no doubt he would be in the squatter camps and townships of
the world amongst the poor. We reckon he would be a real threat to traditional authority.
It would look like he was a revolutionary for the poor. I doubt the organised church today
would like him that much. The show challenged us as to whether we would have liked
him. We don’t know if we would. We didn’t like him as the hippy leader in the show at all.
It was interesting and challenging how that upset us.
We were challenged also as to how Jesus was both gentle and strong. Gentle with
people coming to him for help. Strong in stopping them starting a revolution in his name.
There were difficulties with this. It is clear the show took his relationship with Mary
Magdalene further than it actually went and we were greatly disturbed that the Jesus of
the show didn’t really know what his mission was. But there were signs of the powerful
personality that was Jesus, that fascinated and disturbed at the same time.
We also wondered if we met Jesus as a modern day man, how would he deal with us?
Would he call us out in public or pull us aside and encourage us gently? We hoped he
would do so privately, but sometimes Jesus was extremely firm, direct and public in his
dealings with people. What we are sure of is that he would do what was needed, and at
the end of the day that is good enough for us.


What disturbed us
Yes, we were disturbed by the overly romantic nature of the relationship between Jesus
and Mary Magdalene, but it was a secular show and show writers seem unable to
produce a show without some sort of romantic interest. The show projected a lower level
of morality than we know Jesus lived by.
We were also disturbed by what became of the Judas character. He seems to be the
hero of the show. We are not sure if he rose him from the dead in the show, it was unclear
to us what was happening at that moment, but he certainly came back from death to
comment on Jesus’ fate. This is completely inaccurate and unhelpful.
However, Judas’ concerns about Jesus, his scepticism and his doubts that led to his
betrayal of Jesus were well portrayed and are not unique to Judas. Many have similar
concerns with Jesus even today. It was just a pity that the show made Judas out to be
correct, when actually he misunderstood Jesus.
Mostly, we were disturbed by the way the show described Jesus’ trial. It revealed Jesus
as someone who just didn’t understand what he had done wrong. He did not know why
he had to die in the show. This is completely opposite to the gospel presentation of
Jesus. Yes, he was innocent, but he also knew that it was his Father’s will that he die as a
ransom for many (Mark 10:45).


What we thought the show got really wrong.
The greatest inaccuracy in the show is that there is no resurrection. The story of Jesus is
indeed tragic and sad if there is no resurrection. In fact Jesus can in no way be described
as a superstar if he didn’t rise from the dead, if he didn’t overcome death and rise in
victory and then ascend to the glory of the throne of God. But Jesus did rise from the
dead (1 Corinthians 15:20) and as such he is so much more than a superstar. He is the
king, the Lord, the one worthy of all glory, honour and power. This Easter we worship
Jesus Christ as the Bible has revealed him to be, our Lord and Saviour.
We found watching Jesus Christ Superstar to be difficult viewing. However, it has
challenged us and helped us to think about who Jesus really was, what his death really
accomplished and how his mission of mercy and grace can be a challenge even to those
who follow him.