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Special to The PREVIEW
Tickets go on sale today, June 19, at the Chamber of Commerce office for the production of the greatly anticipated “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The rock opera is presented by Curtains Up, Pagosa! as a part of its 25th silver anniversary celebration, and will be playing at the Pagosa Springs High School auditorium at 7 p.m. June 26, 27, 28 and July 2 and 3, and concluding with a 2 p.m. matinee on July 6. Tickets will also be available at the door.
“Jesus Christ Superstar,” with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and libretto by Tim Rice, first came on the rock scene in 1970 as a recording on vinyl records. Though most religious leaders and traditional followers held the treatment of Christ in this rock opera as suspect at the least and with loathing at the most, teenagers and young adults were mesmerized by this completely new and daring take on the last week of the life of Christ. The controversy was so volatile, no Broadway theater dared to put it on stage for fear of losing its patrons.
But the rock opera was destined for the stage. Unauthorized performances began to pop up all over the country beginning in 1971, eliciting copyright lawsuits by Webber and Rice. Finally, in 1972, it opened at the Palace Theatre in London in an authorized stage production that lasted for eight years — the longest running production of that time.
The controversy centered around several factors. The story is a loose interpretation of biblical accounts, providing a possible scenario of the interaction between Jesus and his disciples during the week prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. The emphasis on Jesus’ humanity, displaying human emotions — anger, sadness, empathy, disappointment, frustration, passion and love — made many Christian believers uncomfortable. Though the opera does not attempt to confirm or deny Jesus’ divinity, it leaves the question to be answered by the viewer.
The character of Judas is given a more sympathetic treatment than the biblical accounts have accorded him. The play explores the psychology of Judas’ thinking and emotions, giving a possible scenario of why Judas betrayed Jesus. Did Judas have a choice or was he a part of God’s plan? If Judas did the will of God, then why is he condemned?
The play portrays Judas as a man who does not believe in Jesus’ divinity and, though he loves him, feels that Jesus is heading down a very dangerous path. Judas knows that if Jesus keeps claiming to be the son of God, it will lead to his death and, most likely, to the death of his followers. He tries to convince Jesus to calm down his rhetoric before it is too late. Ultimately, he and Jesus have a volatile verbal confrontation and Judas takes his complaint to the high priests.
The part of Mary in the play is presumed to be Mary Magdalene. The play alludes to her sexually promiscuous past (though this trait is a religious tradition and not a biblical depiction) and her deep friendship with Jesus. The play explores that relationship and questions whether theirs was a mere friendship or if Jesus held more romantic feelings for her. Nothing in the Bible tells us the answer to that question, nor does the play go so far as to say for certain that the relationship was more than a special friendship. The popular ballad “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” sung by Mary, reaches toward that question, expressing her quandary of emotions toward Jesus.
Musically, Webber treats the play with both seriousness and a touch of humor. When things begin to really heat up and emotions are running high, he throws in a lighthearted song that calms things down. For instance, at the beginning of the opera, the disciples are becoming all riled up about Jesus leading them into Jerusalem. What is Jesus’ game plan (“What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happenin’”)? Jesus gets irritated with them because he sees they are still clueless about his mission. Mary intervenes before things get too heated with her sweet, soothing song, “Everything’s Alright.” These musical interludes are an emotionally helpful tool for the audience to process the more intense moments of the opera.
For those who enjoy discussion, Fr. Doug Neel (portraying the part of Herod) will lead a talk-back session following the opening night performance on June 26.
Regardless of your religious views or affiliations, “Jesus Christ Superstar” will most likely move you. There just is no way around the intensity of the subject matter, nor the incredible dramatic power of Jesus’ crucifixion. Curtains Up, Pagosa! has a long tradition of presenting well-rehearsed, carefully thought-through and well-acted performances. You will not want to miss this monumental production.
For more information about Curtains Up, Pagosa!, go to www.CurtainsUpPagosa.com.