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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ portrays Christ the man

Christian tradition tells us that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. However, many Christians tend to be much more comfortable with the divinity of Christ than the humanity. We are told he was sinless, yet was tempted in every way as we are.

In 1970, a rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber hit the charts, stirring up controversy on the subject of Christ’s humanity. The opera had the slightly irreverent title of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Librettist Rice said, “I wanted to take Jesus out of the stained-glass windows and present him as a human being.”

The opera, originally released in record format, finally hit the stage in the summer of 1971.

Curtains Up, Pagosa! will present their version of this rock opera as a part of their 25th “Silverado” anniversary celebration at Pagosa Springs High School on June 26, 27, 28 and July 2, 3 and 6. As with all of CUP’s performances, there will be a live pit orchestra accompanying a dynamic cast.

The opera loosely follows the biblical story of Jesus during the last week of his life. The libretto is an interpretative character study of the biblical story. The libretto doesn’t claim to follow the Bible verbatim, often alluding to other biblical stories out of context. Throughout, however, the question is asked, “Who is Jesus?”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is librettist Rice’s interpretation of the relationship between Christ and his disciples and, more specifically, Christ and Judas, and Christ and Mary Magdalene. The opera presents a possible motive for Judas to have turned Christ in to the religious authorities, assigning Judas conflicted feelings about his friendship with Jesus, compounded by a massive ego.

The opera also acknowledges Jesus’ humanity in his relationship with Mary Magdalene, whose implied profession is one of a prostitute. The Bible tells us that Jesus had a number of women disciples who followed him and provided food and shelter for him. But the Bible doesn’t tell us how the women felt about him. It is possible that one might assume that these women might have experienced conflicted loving thoughts for him. In the play, Mary sings, “I don’t know how to love him,” a song that became a blockbuster hit in 1970, expressing her confusion about her own feelings for Jesus.

CUP’s version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” will have a twist in its casting. The part of Judas has been assigned to a female, Darcy DeGuise.

“This was done for several reasons,” says director Dale Johnson. “Darcy has a strong voice and excellent acting skills. The opera is very men-heavy in its casting, with only one leading woman part. We don’t have quite enough strong male singer/actors to cover all the parts. When Darcy approached me about trying out for the part, I thought ‘why not?’ While the Bible tells us Judas was male, the play itself does not stick strictly to scripture. Portraying Judas as a woman brings a different dimension to the role and lends to the idea that Judas can be represented as ‘humanity itself’ rather than one specific bad guy.”

“We expect that ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ will raise a lot of questions and will engender a lot of discussion,” says Johnson. “For that reason, we have decided to have a ‘talk back’ session following our opening night performance led by Father Doug Neel, who will be playing the part of Herod. Doug is a scholar and a priest and has the ability to help lead a thoughtful discussion about Tim Rice’s and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interpretation of the story of Jesus. Good theater has the power to provoke our minds and help us ask thoughtful questions. We hope this production will inspire our audiences to do just that.”

This story was posted on May 30, 2014.