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Jesus Christ Superstar

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The Writing of Jesus Christ Superstar

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

The first professionally produced work for librettist/lyricist Tim Rice and prodigious teen composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar was an extremely positive start. While they've had many other phenomenally successful hits, none provides as many examples of cagey writing. In fact, one looking at all their works carefully might conclude that they went on to forget all those lessons from their debut.

Lloyd Webber and Rice hold our attention while telling a very familiar tale. To make the familiar seem fresh, they give us the perspective of Judas, who is traditionally portrayed as a villain. Here he's the protagonist, a faithful apostle who, in the opening number, worries about Jesus' movement ruffling too many feathers.

The choice of musical style "rock "is an example of an anachronism being used to make a point. The show suggests that Jesus' followers aren't so different from the long-haired hippiesprevalent when the show was written. Rock was young people's music, not ancient Roman music, and we accept hearing an old story in contemporary terms. Later shows by these writers use anachronisms for no particular reason.

Best of all, the story doesn't take itself too seriously: there are ample bits of comedy, and, in the title song, an amusing bit of color and brightness where you least expect it. It was audacious of the authors to tell the Gospel, a story so much of the world takes very seriously, in fantastical and even frivolous terms. Again, their later shows, such as Evita, Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard and Rice's Aida are excessively serious, filled with righteousness or self-importance.

Finally, the score uses reprises and repeated phrases judiciously, for dramatic effect. When Judas is preparing to commit suicide, he reprises Mary Magdalene's ballad, "I Don't Know How To Love Him" in a stressful hard rock reinterpretation. After he's dead, the chorus chants "Well done, Judas," just as they did when he betrays Jesus for the pieces of silver. It's an ironic, light touch. In Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love, the same themes are played over and over so many times, one begins to suspect that the composer has run out of musical ideas.

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DVD

Jesus Christ Superstar (Special Edition) (DVD) from Amazon.com 1973 film version directed by Norman Jewison. Special features include a commentary by Norman Jewison.

Cast Recordings

Jesus Christ Superstar London Concept RecordingJesus Christ Superstar (Original London Concept Recording) from Amazon.com Songs include: Disc 1: Overture, Heaven On Their Minds, What's The Bozz / Strange Thing Mystifying, Everything Alright, This Jesus Must Die, Hosanna, Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem, Pilate's Dream, The Temple, Everything's Alright, I Don't Know How To Love Him, Damned For All Time / Blood Money. Disc 2: The Last Supper, Gethsemane, The Arrest, Peter's Denial, Pilate And Christ, King Herod's Song, Juda's Death, Trial Before Pilate, Superstar, Crusifixion, and John Nineteen Fourty One

Jesus Christ Superstar Original Cast RecordingJesus Christ Superstar Original Cast Recording from Amazon.com Remastered version of the original Broadway cast recording. Songs include: Overture, Heaven on Their Minds, What's the Buzz, Everything's Alright, This Jesus Must Die, Hosanna, Simon Zeolotes/Poor Jerusalem, Pilate's Dream, The Temple, Everything's Alright (Reprise), I Don't Know How to Love Him, Damned for All Time/Blood Money, The Last Supper, Gethsemane, The Arrest, Peter's Denial, Pilate and Christ, King Herod's Song, Could We Start Again, Please, Judas' Death, Trial Before Pilate, Superstar, Crucifixion, and John Nineteen Forty One

Sheet Music

Vocal Selections from Jesus Christ Superstar from Musicnotes.com Songs include: Superstar, I Don't Know How To Love Him, I Only Want To Say, The Last Supper, Pilate's Dream, Everything's Alright, Hosanna, and Heaven on Their Minds. Instant digital download sheet music.

"I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Everything's Alright" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Pilate's Dream" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Superstar" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Hosanna" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

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