Monday, August 1, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar

Thoughts on the 2011 Stratford Festival Presentation

As an anniversary present this year, I purchased two tickets for My Dear Wife and I to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Avon Theater in Stratford, Ontario. Here are thoughts compiled over 40 years of loving the music created by Timothy Rice and Anthony Lloyd Webber.

Webber and Rice put out some fine musicals together, and also separately over the years. Jesus Christ Superstar was actually their third collaboration, the second being Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat after The Likes of Us, which was slow to see the light of day.
When I first heard the music in 1971, I fell in love with it, which was interesting as I had recently begun my self imposed exile from the Catholic Church, in what I refer to as my agnostic period. But, the music struck me and stayed with me. 40 years later, I knew every lyric of every song, and followed every musical nuance. This too is interesting, since 7 1/2 years ago, I incurred a brain injury that makes it difficult for me to recall what I had for lunch yesterday. I had owned the album, and the sheet music, which I had played on the piano for many years. As well, I saw the movie a number of times.

But, this time I saw it with different eyes. The production was fantastic, beautifully done, sung and acted.

However, I noticed the play's focus was on the humanity of Jesus, not His divinity.   This did not matter in the least to me 40 years ago, but provided opportunity this time.  I did not find this disturbing, as Jesus was and is both divine and human.    Some evangelicals had picketed 40 years ago, when the play first hit Broadway, but I think they missed the point.  Clearly the focus was His humanity. Additional focal points were the humanity of Mary Magdalene, and Judas Iscariot.

We see in the play, a Jesus who has some trepidation about his death. We Christians think of Jesus as God, and can easily forget that He was about to be killed in a most brutal way. On the way to "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing," there is a great deal of anguish, and I think we lose sight of that. The play helped me to rethink the human aspect of Jesus' sacrifice for us, without diminishing His divine work to redeem us.  He did it in human form.

Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a woman, a former prostitute, who is confused by the love she has for Jesus. But then, why should this not be so? When she was loved by Jesus and turned from her life of sexual sin, would all those learned behaviors have just disappeared in a flash? I know that after Jesus touched me, all my learned sin responses and rebellious acts did not suddenly disappear. Yes, I am a new creation, but there is much of the old me yearning to get out, oft times successfully. So, Mary Magdalene seemed very real and human to me, confused about who Jesus really is.

Judas also came off as very human to me. He was afraid that Jesus was getting out of hand. Clearly, he could not get his head around the divinity of Jesus, and so he tried to bring him down to reality to protect his view of how Judaism needed to function in the Roman occupation. Judas was clearly most interested in protecting his own hide, a lot like I am often in my life.  We know historically that Judas was less interested in the poor and their needs, than in setting aside money for a rainy day for himself.

So, I could relate to Mary Magdalene, and Judas, and also to the betrayal by Peter, which is portrayed briefly. I would have been capable of playing any one of those roles in 33 AD, and can even play them today, thank you very much, and for the same reason as they did. Often times, I diminish the divinity of Jesus, and focus on His humanity, excusing my own behavior, when I am called to imitate His divinity.

I still love Jesus Christ Superstar, the musical, but even more so, I love Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour.

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