Come April 1, there’s a new Superstar in town.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s epic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is the fifth in line to receive the live television musical event treatment, but this latest mounting by NBC presents a fresh approach to a form that’s only a few years old.
“Musically, we’re going to stick pretty close to the original … but visually we want to update it and refresh it,” says star John Legend in the video above. “The set design and costume design are all meant to connect the present to the past a little more.”
Unlike The Sounds of Music Live’s Los Angeles soundstage or Grease Live’s Hollywood lot, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert will be staged in Brooklyn’s Marcy Armory as a rock concert staging—as the title implies.
While Broadway fans know Superstar as a fully staged musical, the concert staging actually returns to the original sensibility of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s work and original 1970 concept album. (In fact, after the album dropped, concert stagings of the musical popped up across the U.S. prior to its bow as a Broadway musical in 1971.)
So who do you get to star in a rock concert? Rock stars, of course.
Alice Cooper is King Herrod. Ten-time Grammy winner (and 28-time nominee) John Legend and six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles headline the performance as Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, respectively. While best known as singer-songwriters, both artists have embraced their theatre roots as of late—Bareilles writing and starring in Waitress on Broadway, Legend producing Jitney, and both writing songs for SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical—and now dive head first to leading the massive undertaking.
“The scale of the show is really big and fairly immersive,” says two-time Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Judas in this rendition and brings a bit of the seasoned Broadway outlook to the cast. “That [audience] energy affects the performances very dynamically, as well.”
Indeed, Superstar feels like the most ambitious of the live events to date. While Grease Live first introduced the concept of a live audience, Superstar ups the ante and will host a crowd of 1,500. On top of that, it’s the first of these live musicals to include the live band onstage—32 musicians, to be exact. All of the production elements match the arena scale. But that’s Bareilles’ comfort zone.
“Being a concert performer, the audience is why you showed up,” she tells Playbill. “It will be nice to actually help distrct from the idea that there are cameras at all [and] just play to the crowd and hopefully it will transcend.”
Director David Leveaux and television director Alex Rudzinski are working hard to ensure that is the case. Leveaux wants to create an arresting experience—in person and at home: “Sunday night you'll be able to sit together and experience the thrill of John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Alice Cooper and these magnificent sets and costumes and the bells and whistles of all the pyrotechnics.”
Look Back at the Original Broadway Production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.