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JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR RETURNS TO ITS ROOTS By Peter Filichia

It’s said that what goes around comes around – and that’s now true
of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

In early 1970, the pop opera became famous as a two-disc vinyl
record album. It put composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim
Rice on the charts as well as the cultural map.

Now in late 2018 – well after the age of cassettes, eight-tracks and
CDs – once again the score has been released as a two-disc vinyl
record album.

Not that the new issue is remotely the same as the older one. JESUS
CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT is the soundtrack of the
much-admired special that aired on NBC this past Easter Sunday.

The production that would win five Emmys — including one for
Outstanding Variety Special — issued a digital release earlier this
year. Last Friday, it got a Grammy nomination as Best Musical
Theater album.

Now comes the vinyl that is only available through Barnes & Noble,
be it at one of their 640 stores or via bn.com.

The first JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was conceived as a concept
album; Lloyd Webber has often said that he had no other aspirations
for it.

It was an alternate look at the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life.
Rice had a different take on what was going through His mind as well
what Judas, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Pontius Pilate might have
thought.

Pop-rock was the musical style with one notable exception: Herod
got a snazzy old-world show tune. On the new soundtrack, he’s played by Alice Cooper, the one member of the cast who’s been in the business so long that when he started recording, vinyl was the
industry standard. (Stephen Schwartz even included his name in his 1974 musical THE MAGIC SHOW.) The septuagenarian shows he hasn’t lost his touch; he has great fun with “King Herod’s Song”
(more casually known as “King of the Jews”).

He’s not the only legend on the album – and that noun can be taken
literally as well as figuratively. For one thing, his name is John
Legend and for another, he’s had two gold and two platinum albums.
Here Legend is heard almost as much as he is on his own studio
recordings, for Jesus has thirteen opportunities to sing. Legend seizes
them.

Vinyl is famous for its warmth, and Sara Bareilles, playing Mary
Magdalene, simmers with the score’s biggest hits: “Everything’s
Alright,” possibly the most enticing show song in 5/4 and “I Don’t
Know How to Love Him,” a musical cri du coeur.

Just as many claim that GYPSY should really be called ROSE because
Mrs. Hovick and not Louise is truly the main character, one could
argue that JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR could have been named
JUDAS. His is the only role in the show that has ever seen an actor
nominated for a Tony: Ben Vereen in the original production; Josh
Young in the most recent revival.

Judas sets the show in motion with his arresting opening number
“Heaven on Their Minds” and continues to command our attention
through his final song which is, of course, “Judas’ Death.”

Here Brandon Victor Dixon is galvanizing in the role. Dixon is,
incidentally, one of the rare performers to get two Tony nominations
for Featured Actor in a Musical (THE COLOR PURPLE and SHUFFLE
ALONG) … and an actual Tony for producing one (HEDWIG AND THE
ANGRY INCH).

Nearly a half-century has passed since JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
debuted on VARIETY’S best-selling album chart. Most albums start off low in the newspaper’s Top Fifty: entering at, say, forty-nine, thirty- seven, etc.; JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR entered the list in fourth
place. It would eventually make The Top Ten in six different countries, including the United States.

Once the sheet music was published, professional and community
groups started doing the album as on-stage concerts. Cease-and-
desist letters soon followed. As Ethan Mordden wittily reported in
ONE MORE KISS, his excellent study of ‘70s musicals, “Even nuns got
sued.”

All those renegade concerts gave way to an authorized Broadway
production in 1971. It was a hit, yes, but not a sensation. Its five
Tony nominations yielded no wins. When it closed fewer than twenty-
one months later (after 711 performances), the property that had
been accustomed to residing in The Top Ten had just made it into
the list of Broadway’s top fifty longest-running musicals.

So considering the decent but not overwhelming success of the stage
show, nobody could have genuinely predicted how Lloyd Webber and
Rice would eventually impact Broadway. Counting the three original
productions and five revivals that sport both their names, the pair
has racked up 3,996 Broadway performances.

That’s chump change compared to what they’ve achieved since they
essentially stopped writing together (after EVITA in 1979). Each has
been more successful without the other.

Rice has been the sole or prime lyricist on five Broadway musicals
that have amassed 18,112 performances — and counting; THE LION
KING and ALADDIN aren’t leaving Broadway any time soon.

Lloyd Webber has accumulated substantially more. Thanks to nine
originals and two revivals, his musicals have seen 25,068
performances – with more to come. True, SCHOOL OF ROCK will
close soon, but THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA won’t.

One of the song titles on this album serves as a nice metaphor for a
newborn vinyl recording: “Could We Start Again, Please?” which is
what Mary Magdalene asks of the apostle (and soon-to-be Pope)
Peter (an impressive Jason Tam).

This song wasn’t on the original concept album; Lloyd Webber and
Rice wrote it specifically for the 1971 Broadway production. It’s been
part of the score ever since, and was included in the 1977, 1992,
2000 and 2012 revivals as well as the 1973 film.

For Baby Boomers who recall sliding JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR’S
original long-playing records from each side of a gatefold jacket, the
new vinyl issue will bring back memories of yore and deja vu. Those
who weren’t around to attend the original vinyl party can experience
what their grandparents felt when they got the discs – with one
marked exception.

The color brown dominated the concept album: a brown outside
cover with the title and logo as well as a brown back cover that
simply listed the names of the ten characters and the performers
who’d play them. Opening up the gatefold offered 288 square-inches
worth of more brown — and nothing else. Not even a single letter of
the alphabet, let alone a word.

Inside one jacket, however, was a six-by-twelve-inch twenty-eight
page booklet with the lyrics. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN
CONCERT instead offers the lyrics on a double-sheet inserted into a
far more detailed and handsome packaging. Those who miss seeing
big pictures that compact disc booklets cannot accommodate will
relish the three substantially larger ones inside the album’s gatefold
jacket. The back cover is mostly covered with a picture of Bareilles
and Legend hugging. At first glance, Bareilles appears to be naked.
Lest you want the vinyl packaging for that reason alone, be apprised
that a closer examination reveals that she is not.

“What goes around comes around” for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
could be seen in another context. For much of the 20 th century, most
of the recorded music that served as home listening was manufactured in a circular form ranging from four-and-a-half to twelve inches. Thus with this new vinyl soundtrack JESUS CHRIST
SUPERSTAR has come full circle in more ways than one.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at
www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com .
He can be heard most weeks of the year on
www.broadwayradio.com .