John Legend Talks NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert!
March 26, 2018
Airing on Easter Sunday, April 1, will be Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert, with Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner John Legend cast in the title role. The musical will be performed in front of a live audience at the Marcy Armory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Jesus Christ Superstar Live” is based on the 1971 Broadway musical revolving around the last week of Jesus’ life.
The all-star cast features Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner John Legend (Jesus), Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene), Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas), and Alice Cooper (King Herod). Featured in the ensemble are Tony nominee Ben Daniels (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) as Pontius Pilate, Tony nominee Norm Lewis (Once on This Island) as Caiaphas, Jason Tam (If/Then) as Peter, Jin Ha (M. Butterfly) as Annas, and Swedish rock star Erik Gronwall as Simon Zealotes.
The creative team features Emmy Award-winning live television director and executive producer Alex Rudzinski (Hairspray Live!), Emmy- and Tony-winning costumer designer Paul Tazewell (Hamilton), Grammy-winning music producer Harvey Mason Jr. (The Wiz Live!), musical director Nigel Wright (Jesus Christ Superstar world arena tour), production designer Jason Ardizzone-West (Adele Live in NYC), and choreographer Camille A. Brown (Once on This Island).
Legend is a musician, songwriter, actor and producer who has become active in television as a thesp and producer. He’s a 10-time Grammy winner and an Oscar winner for his work on the song “Glory” from the 2014 drama “Selma.” He won a Tony Award in 2017 as a producer of “Jitney,” the August Wilson revival.
While talking to the press recently to promote the musical, Legend expressed his opinions on playing Jesus.
Can you talk about the importance of a black Jesus right now?
John Legend: I think it’s cool. I think we’ve seen a version of Jesus most of the time that has been made historical like he was from Oslo or Berlin when he was from a region of the world where his skin probably looked a lot more like mine than he looked like a lot of other people who has played Jesus over the years. I think part of what NBC decided to do from the beginning was to make this show multiracial and multicultural in a way that didn’t have to align what people thought. You know what people may have looked like in that era but just be a reflection of how beautiful and diverse America is. And that’s what we’ve done with these casting decisions; and I’m excited to play Jesus.
Jesus Christ Superstar examines Jesus as a celebrity and as a celebrity yourself; Do you see parallels?
JL: A lot of them are explicitly written into the character and into the music because the idea of fame and feeling like you do something that’s supposed to inspire people and that’s supposed to be leading them in the right direction. A lot of times the fame pulls at you and it’s kind of taxing and a responsibility. To add to that, for Jesus the responsibility of actually giving actually up his life, that’s a lot of the emotional arch of the character – thinking about what does it mean to be willing to give up your life for anything. What the show does is explore the human side of someone that a lot of people look at as a deity. The doubt, the fear that you might feel knowing that you have to go into that situation – knowing that you’re going to be tortured. It wasn’t lethal injection back then – they made it as difficult as possible before you die and the fact that he knew that was coming and ended up facing it. That is a lot of what the emotional climax is for this show.
Any advice from Andrew Lloyd Webber?
JL: He talked a lot about what his motivation was in writing this character, thinking about him as a real human being and having human emotion. I think our goal is to connect to his emotion and his sense of love, fear, doubt and friendship with judas and mary and his disciples. Thinking of him as a human in those ways.
With the religious background you come from, do you think it’ll be a spiritual connection on the day; when it’s live?
JL: I felt it in rehearsal already, so I think we’ll feel it live especially with 1,200 people there, I’m going to allow myself to be free in that moment and really give everything. There’s a lot of emotion in this show and you have to connect with that emotion. The biggest song for me is ‘Gethsemane’ there’s so much power and emotion in it and I’m just going to try to give everything I possibly can for it. That’s like the crux of it for him; he’s like “dad do I have to really do this? Are you sure?” – he feels every emotion of fear, of doubt, and of rebellion to some extent. And he’s about to take on the most awesome responsibility he could ever to take on.
When you decided on your role was there any responsibility you took on and how did you tell your God fearing parents?
JL: They’re excited. My entire family is excited to watch it, and some want to come to New York to see it live. I felt like if I was going to do something like this, this is the way to do it. if I was going to do one of these televised musicals what better role would I do than this. This is so iconic to say I was the one who played Black Jesus on JCSL, I had to do it.
Any future Broadway plans?
JL: No plans, my production company has a show called Jitney that won a Tony, but as far as me starring, no plans ahead.