Jesus Christ Superstar has been in revival mode since the early 1990’s. However, the newest incarnation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has some particularly big names in the cast. The legendary John “Rotten” Lydon is playing King Herod, JC Chasez, NSYNC heartthrob, is Pontius Pilate, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, portrays Mary Magdalene and British vocal sensation Ben Forster is Jesus. Brandon Boyd, from the band Incubus, will be performing as Judas Iscariot. For that role, easily the most challenging part in Jesus Christ Superstar, Boyd will want to channel Carl Anderson.
Arguably, the toughest sandals to fill will be those belonging to the man who, though he did not originate the role, made the part his. Carl Anderson, who died in 2004, began playing Judas in 1971 on a pre-Broadway tour. Later, as Ben Vereen’s understudy, he portrayed Jesus’ friend on Broadway. The film adaptation was released in 1973 with Carl Anderson firmly in place as Judas Iscariot. Throughout the 1990’s, Anderson frequently resurrected the role for various revivals of the musical. He was working on a national tour in 2003, when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Like Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale or Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi, Judas Iscariot belonged to Carl Anderson. His soulfully rock style voice could express rage as a roar (“Heaven on Their Minds”) or regret as a whisper (“Blood Money”); his portrait of Judas was goosebump-raising-great. He had a talent for for being both cocksure and vulnerable, baffled and indignant, loving and disdainful. He achieved a high level of sympathy from the audience never before felt for one of history’s most despised figures. His song “Damned For All Time” is a true show-stopper.
So far, besides some press releases, a gorgeous website and an appearance by Williams and Boyd on Good Morning America, there is not much being said about the upcoming tour, which kicks off on June 9 in New Orleans. Perhaps as momentum and excitement builds, there will be interviews and performances to entice an already enthusiastic audience. The interesting mix of musical backgrounds of the principle players will surely bring an eclectic mix of audience members. Add these to the Jesus Christ Superstar devotees and the experience is sure to be electrifying, on and off the stage.
With big shows like this, comparisons are bound to be made. Ted Neeley’s portrayal was understated. How will Ben Forster approach the role of Jesus? Yvonne Elliman’s Mary was sweet and almost demure. Will Michelle Williams play Mary as a stronger more clearly defined leader? Will Brandon Boyd choose to channel Carl Anderson’s spirit for his own portrayal or take Jesus Christ Superstar’s Judas Iscariot in another direction?
Since the rock opera was first staged in 1971, much has been learned about the lives of the historically relevant people who populate the show. Mary Magdalene was in fact not a prostitute, but came from an affluent and influential family. It has been theorized that Jesus himself came from a family with its’ own wealth and standing. There has also been a greater understanding developed around their deep, personal relationships. Some theorists have gone so far as to surmise that Jesus and Mary were in fact married and had children. Judas is now looked at as a man who was seriously conflicted. His friendship with Jesus was valuable to him. In the musical, his is the only role that has begun this evolution toward more than just a supporter turned betrayer. The role of Judas Iscariot has greater substance and complexity, which perhaps helps explain why Anderson gives such a phenomenal performance. The material was strong to begin with.
Without a doubt, this is sure to be a fantastic production. Williams, Forster, Lydon and Chasez will hopefully be encouraged to bring something fresh to their roles. However, it would be completely acceptable if Brandon Boyd were to channel the quintessential performance of Carl Anderson as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
By Stacy Lamy