When i heard the album Jesus Christ Superstar at 14 years old, i was just becoming really into both music and theology. I also really liked stories made out of music and would listen to mix tapes at night and draw narratives out of the unrelated songs playing. Thus, this album blew my little 14 year old mind through the roof. (of course you should have seen what happened to my little adolescent brain when i discovered The Wall a year later, (hint: this ) but we’ll stick to musical theater for the minute.)
This was the album that first taught me how to reuse musical themes for storytelling purposes and how to be a character, fit the drama of the story and yet wail your heart out like there’s no tomorrow.
Fans of this show will never, ever tire of arguing who played the best Christ and Judas. For decades they’ve been waiting for someone to settle this burning debate. Well wait no longer, for here i am to settle this once and for all.
Best Jesus: Ian Gellan. Yeay yeah, Neeley this and that… folks, Ian Gellan set the standard every other Jesus since has tried to imitate, live up to or beat. No one would be squeezing their testicles to hit those notes on Gethsemane if he didn’t establish that was how to sing the song in the first place.
BUT…. but. For best PERFORMANCE Jesus: Steve Balsamo. Yeah i said it. I present the evidence:
Now for best Judas. Hmm. I’m going to throw down my FAVorite Judas, although i accept there are other Judases with better voices. But NO ONE, NO…..ONE…. has owned the character like Jerome Pradon. He does an excellent job vocally, but he brings an elevated level of acting to both his vocal performance and his sheer personalization of the role. He’s my favorite.
The 2000 version of Superstar is a divided bag for me. I hate the shmuck who plays Pilate so much that i cannot even watch his songs because i cannot refrain from wanting to pummel him to death for the most over acted, over the top performance i’ve ever seen. I could go on about other aspects i like and dislike but i will say this: it has the single best moment i’ve ever seen in any production of the show EVER.
Seriously. Regardless of other great moments worth mentioning (Rik Mayall’s Herod, another best performance in the role) the song Superstar contains my favorite moment from any performance of the show ever. Throughout the show Jesus and Judas keep reaching out to one another, but they keep missing each other. And in the rift that grows between them the seeds of of Jesus’ betrayal and subsequent death are sown. But in the song Superstar almost at the end of the show, Judas and Jesus finally have their moment together. Even now it’s hard to have, for Jesus is in pain and Judas is gloating and bitter and mocking him, but finally, near the end, Judas puts aside his mocking and he and Jesus at last, at long last, have the possibly of the moment of connection they have missed out on. And in this moment, Jesus reaches out to Judas, in compassion and forgiveness. But the beat is thumping, the girls are singing, the cameras are rolling, and media is crowding around eagerly and just before Jesus can can finally connect to forgive him, Judas simply cannot resist having his rock star moment, and he turns away the final time to sing and prance and be the rock star. It’s haunting.
Having now completely ruined it with over analysis, here’s the performance: