The opening of Jesus Christ Superstar is the only place the three leads really interact. Jesus, Mary, and Judas all interact. Through and behind the songs, this quick narrative plays out. In addition to showcasing the performers–John Legend is Jesus, Sara Bareilles is Mary, Brandon Victor Dixon is Judas–and giving them brief solos, the sequence also establishes certain aspects (and limits) of the adaptation. Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert is both stage production and filmed performance of stage production. Sometimes the direction syncs, sometimes it doesn’t.
For example, director Rudzinski (who directed the filming) is far more interested in the physicality–and implied physicality–of Bareilles and Legends’s relationship. How they move and touch. Whereas Leveaux, who directed the stage production, isn’t really interested. Leveaux isn’t interested in how the cast emotes. Otherwise you wouldn’t have the guy at the end blinking rapidly to show interest in levitating messiahs.
Rudzinski, on the other hand, is very interested in the emoting. Sometimes way too interested in it. Well, only when the stage production is in a lull. Rudzinski can direct movement, he can’t direct lull. The opening is good, the finale is great (because it fully showcases Dixon), and the “Arrest” direction is truly awesome. Leveaux and Rudzinski do it as reporters sticking microphones and cameras in Legend’s face. But Leveaux has a lot of lulls. And Rudzinksi can’t really direct them.
Partially because Legend’s not great at the close-up acting. Dixon’s great at it. It’s hard to believe Dixon is going through all that work when no one’s even going to see him from the audience (but the camera sees this performance). Bareilles is somewhere in between. Her numbers usually stay in long shot, the close-ups saved for the more personal moments with Legend. Singing-wise, Dixon and Bareilles are good. Bareilles has one great number, but not the previous one, which is way too restrained.
Legend’s fine. It’s not a particularly great part. And he does look like he wandered off a Star Wars set. His followers look like an eighties multi-racial (but mostly white) movie gang. The priests look like something out of a Matrix sequel. The sets are scaffolding but generically urban. It looks very eighties. Down to the multi-racial gang.
But Legend’s fine. He just doesn’t impress like Bareilles or, particularly, Dixon. Though “The Temple” is pretty awesome in Live. It works out.
Jin Ha is great. Norm Lewis is almost as great. Jason Tam’s way too much just there. Erik Grönwall isn’t good. Ben Daniels is good but not great. He’s ostentatious in the wrong way. Similar to Alice Cooper, who’s cameoing. Thanks to the filmed live nature of Live in Concert, you even get to see him going around the front of the stage for the audience. He takes a victory lap for what amounts to stunt miscasting. He’s okay, but it’s a lousy “King Herod’s Song” number.
They should’ve gotten David Lee Roth.
The end is really impressive, starting with “Superstar.” Leveaux saved all the flash for the finale; the flash is big enough scale, Rudzinski can get a lot of coverage. It works out. Because so long as Jesus Christ Superstar doesn’t mess up a few things, it’s always going to work out.
Dixon should’ve gotten to dance through the whole thing. And Legend needed an acting coach. Or Leveaux needed a better take on the character.
And David Lee Roth. He would’ve been so good.
Directed by David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski; written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice; produced by Neil Meron, Marc Platt, and Craig Zadan; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.
Starring Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas), John Legend (Jesus Christ), Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalane), Ben Daniels (Pontius Pilate), Norm Lewis (Caiaphas), Jin Ha (Annas), Jason Tam (Peter), Erik Grönwall (Simon), and Alice Cooper (King Herod).