Jesus Christ Superstar: Ranking Versions

Andrew Lloyd Weber’s classic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar has had different productions since it premiered in 1971, and has been preserved on film via four different iterations. Out of these four, there is only one which I am not too fond off so it was a little tough for me to decide which one I really wanted on top. So here goes.

4. Live Arena Tour (2012)
Starring: Ben Forster as Jesus, Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie C as Mary Magdalene

Specifically staged for arenas and large venues instead of a traditional and more intimate theater, this production seemed so chaotic as I feel there was a big need to fill up the large stage, so there you had the band, ensemble, a giant screen showing either scene backdrops, visuals, or close-ups of the performers, effectively drowning lead performers amongst background players and sets whenever cameras zoom out. Very hard to focus because there are a lot going on and the camera pans don’t help either.

The redeeming factor in this production are the lead performers who I really enjoyed listening to. Yes, at some point, I had to look away and just listened in so I can’t really comment on the choreography as a whole. Costume-wise, it’s not the best I’ve seen in any theatre production but not the worst either.

3. DVD Release (2000)
Starring: Glenn Carter as Jesus, Jerome Pradon as Judas, Renee Castle as Mary Magdalene

The direct to DVD version following Donny Osmond’s Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, the 2000 filmed version was produced and performed in an audience-less soundstage but the energy of this show was still very good.

Strong performances, especially the principals along with a minimalist set, and eclectic costumes made up for the lack of big choreographed numbers.

2. Live in Concert (2018)
Starring: John Legend as Jesus, as Brandon Victor Dixon Judas, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene

There are similarities here with the arena version and it could have easily been a mess, but surprisingly, I enjoyed this very much – maybe it’s because the camera wasn’t panning at a speed of light or maybe the choreography was more united and cohesive.

Add fantastic performers from the music and theatre industry and here you have a show that gets you hooked from the first note

1. Theatrical Release (1973)
Starring: Ted Neely as Jesus, Carl Anderson as Judas, Yvonne Elliman and Mary Magdalene

Easily, the original out-stars everything else.

Director Norman Jewison’s classic movie is still my first go-to whenever I feel like seeing the musical. Great sets, costumes, choreography, cinematography, name it – this film has it all, and although the film looks dated (it is from 1973 after all), the essence is still very timeless, and it is so much fun to watch retro fashion. Plus Yvonne Elliman’s voice is just so soothing.

Closing this, I just learned that today is Ash Wednesday, signaling the start of lent – holy spirit of coincidence!

I’m looking forward to seeing the new touring production this Fall, same one that I should have seen two years ago, but was postponed due to COVID. The funny thing is even though this is probably one of my favourite to listen and watch to, I haven’t actually seen a live production so stay tuned to see what I think of that show.

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