Three hours later, when Zack Parry was still taking snapshots on his camera, he was wearing a blue blazer with a crucifix around his neck. He was part of a sea of Sunday-supplied white, his followers all in the thousands, now shuffling towards the stage, where the show hadn’t even started yet.
It was the first night of rehearsals for our production of Jesus Christ Superstar at London’s Hippodrome Theatre. There is something about the name “Jesus Christ Superstar” that is an unspoken invitation to ecstacy. So it came as no surprise that the crowd cheered for God to take a stroll around the stage. It wasn’t actually an interminable jam session in which The Lamb became a singing priest; it was more of a mini-music festival – although, like with all giant festivals, this was only a small percentage of the audience.
Not Jesus’s real name, not Mary Magdalene’s real name, but the names of his apostles in his historic life
After Jesus’s resurrection, his disciples began investigating the man known as the Big Cheese. Did he have any divinity to him, as everyone wanted to believe? A whole history was written about his life. Of the dozen or so plays written on the subject, there are three being performed in Toronto at the moment.
It might seem like so many have been written already, but each of them is a direct transcript of the author’s life. The original playwright, Andrew Lloyd Webber, recorded a live audio memoir, much of which has been added to this stage adaptation. Two of the productions were bestsellers – enough to have helped launch a career as a theology lecturer. But is Jesus Christ Superstar really the one with the stories most written about? Hardly: scholars often question the veracity of different versions, the most notable ones being those that describe Jesus having a previously unknown name or his actual age. It would also appear that Jesus was most fully developed in the play Young Jesus by a less famous composer, and most promiscuous in scripture than is generally thought.
It’s also a necessary experience for Toronto’s Christian community. Our pastor, Martin Barreira, and I chose to include a Mormon version as an alternative to the standard theatrical rendering of the story. We considered a straight-up gospel version, but why stop at “proselytizing for God?” Why not start with the original apostles and go backward in time?
What is the most often asked question when asked about our theatre version? “Is this any good?” Yes, it is, but it’s much more than that. It’s catharsis for a community that’s struggling with sex scandals, gun violence, climate change, housing prices, racism and even boredom, as hard as it is to satirise the New Testament.
I learned to practice holiness and the credo that everything to the full, that is exactly what Jesus Christ Superstar is about
We tried to offer a larger performance experience that’s at times intimate and intimate and at times big and sweeping. All in all, it’s a challenging, beautiful and healing opportunity to join our faith-filled community in offering everyone in Toronto a bigger and better life.
When I learned to practise holiness and the credo that everything to the full, that is exactly what Jesus Christ Superstar is about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a living Christian or a dead one, or which you believe in, it’s our problem and we are here to make it better. The largest church in the world is just as responsible as any of the religious institutions for the brokenness of the world.
Jesus Christ Superstar has been the venue for decades, providing communion to people around the world. If ever there were a time for the spiritual and emotional therapy this play offers, it’s now.