Ten-time Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Golden Globe winner John Legend, who was handpicked to play the coveted role of Jesus in NBC’s live Easter Sunday telecast of the landmark Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, joins Tony-winner Glenn Close and Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda in Wednesday’s one-hour special Andrew Lloyd Webber Tribute to a Superstar, 10 P.M. Eastern. Jesus Christ Superstar Live! airs Sunday in a two-hour-and-20-minute telecast from Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Marcy Armory at 8 P.M.
Lloyd Webber, considered one of history’s most successful composers of musicals in history, has won seven Tony Awards, three Grammys, and an Oscar and Golden Globe. He’s also a Kennedy Center Honoree. In February 2017 he achieved the rare distinction of having four shows running simultaneously on Broadway: Cats (revival), The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Sunset Boulevard (concert revival). In addition to producing his musicals with his Really Useful Company and Cameron Mackintosh, he’s also presented plays, such as Lend Me a Tenor. Legend won his Oscar for Best Original Song, "Glory," from the film Selma, his Tony Award for co-producing last season’s revival of August Wilson’s Jitney. He has been honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame with their Hal David Starlight Award.
The special, on the heels of Lloyd Webber’s 70th birthday and the publication of his massive memoir Unmasked [Harper Collins], which at 518 pages comes just short of rivaling Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and only half-bows to Tolstoy’s War and Peace [however, Volume Two’s in the works], is a tribute and celebration of one of theater’s most prolific composers.
Compared to Stephen Sondheim, Lloyd Webber may not have be the critics’ darling, as he’s often mused, but his musicals have raked in billions worldwide, with only one or two hiccups. [It’s certain that Jerry Herman, who also suffered many a critic, has a flush bottom line with the blockbuster success of the Hello, Dolly! revival.]
The live telecast will co-star Brandon Victor Dixon (original cast, Hamilton) as apostle Judas and Sara Bareilles (composer, often star Waitress) as Mary Magdalene, with stellar featured spots by rock legend Alice Cooper as Herod, Tony nominee Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Swedish rock star Erik Gronwall as apostle Simon Zealotes, Jin Ha (M. Butterfly revival) as high priest Annas, Tony nominee Norm Lewis as high priest Caiaphas, and Jason Tam (If/Then, Lysistrata Jones) as apostle Peter.
According to a spokesman for Emmy-winning Brad Lachman Productions, where the special was still being edited on Friday, “the tribute covers Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows from Jesus Christ Superstar to Sunset Boulevard” It will begin with a montage of Lloyd Webber musicals, include numerous photos [some vintage], and conversation and reflection with Glenn Close and sound bites with John Legend and Lin-Manuel Miranda. In addition, there’ll be an appearance by New York’s Young People’s Chorus, who’re appearing in the Easter Sunday live telecast.”
On the program, Lloyd Webber states, “Jesus Christ Superstar has always been at its best when it’s presented live and close to a rock concert. Tim (Rice) and I discovered with Joseph and His Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat that we liked the idea of having no dialogue.”
The rock opera was presented in a dynamic rock concert production in London’s Regents Park Open Air Theatre in 2016, winning an Olivier Award for Best Revival, with a return last summer. Following the Broadway premiere, the show debuted in Los Angeles at Universal Studios amphitheatre.
“The wonderful thing about musical theater,” observes Lloyd Webber, “is that there are no rules. Jesus Christ Superstar was made first as a recording because no one was interested in producing it in theater. When MCA Records and Universal Studios put up the money to record the complete piece, we considered it as a recording that had to entertain listeners as if it was a musical play on radio.”
He thinks one of the reasons Jesus Christ Superstar has endured today – with productions worldwide and, in the U.S. even by church groups especially at Easter season -- is because it was conceived as a record. “We didn’t have theater directors saying you need 18 extra bars here for scenery shifts or what have you,” he says. “It was carefully constructed by Tim and I to be a tight piece to take the listener in a straight line from A to Z.”
Lloyd Webber and Rice didn’t exactly create the British Invasion of Broadway but they contributed more than any other composers, their rock opera helping to shape musical theatre as we know it today. The composer is responsible for some of Broadway’s most popular shows: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, -- all with lyricist Rice; Cats, Song and Dance, Starlight Express [which may be making a spectacular return], Broadway’s longest-running musical [celebrating 30 years] The Phantom of the Opera, one of his most underrated works Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, By Jeeves, Bombay Dreams, The Woman in White, and, currently on the boards, School of Rock.
On the program, Glenn Close says, “Andrew is a bonafied genius. It’s been a privilege to work with him. When I stepped onstage in Los Angeles in the first American production of Sunset Boulevard, I was still learning to sing. Andrew’s music is very challenging. You have to have technical knowledge, and I had a long way to go. If I went onstage thinking I was going to be singing, that would have been too daunting. I went out there thinking of the big songs as monologues, thinking of Norma, of her situation, of what she was saying. It was the only way I could have gotten through. It was an amazing journey.”
The special is from Marc Platt Productions and, lead producers of the Sunday telecast, Zadan/Meron Productions [Craig Zadan and Neal Meron]. Lachman and Bill Bracken of Lachman Productions serve as executive producer and co-executive producer, respectively.
In celebration of all things Lloyd Webber, Sony Masterworks has scheduled April 27th for the drop of a two-disc original cast album from the telecast, with 27 tracks, including the curtain call; and Verve Records has released the four-disc and a two-disc Andrew Lloyd Webber: Unmasked - The Platinum Collection.
The complete set, which features over 70 tracks, presents stars of the original musicals, including School of Rock, “Superstar” by Murray Head, Jesus Christ Superstar’s album Judas; “Buenos Aires” [Evita] by cast members of Glee; a stunning rendition of “Tell Me on a Sunday” [Song and Dance] by Michael Crawford; “No Matter What” [Whistle Down the Wind] by Boyzone; and newly-recorded versions of songs by pop star and Golden Globe nominee Lana Del Rey, Grammy winning jazz/blues vocalist Gregory Porter, and multi-Platinum singer [and actress] Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls), plus, a 40- page booklet with introduction by Andrew Lloyd Webber and tributes from Close, Michael Crawford [The Phantom of the Opera], Close, Tim Rice, and Streisand.