How Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert took a different approach to broadcasting live musical theatre

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The still relatively new genre of live Broadway musicals on television got a shot in the arm on April 1—Easter Sunday—when NBC presented Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. The production benefited from the fact that the piece is through-composed, allowing the cast to leap from one hit tune to the next, and the presence of a live audience kept the energy level pumping. And a sizzling cast, led by John Legend as Christ, Broadway’s Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas, and Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdelene—not to mention a scene-stealing cameo by Alice Cooper as Herod—delivered the numbers with brio. Adding to the excitement was a powerful production design aided by sterling audio and perfectly calibrated camerawork; everyone collaborated to deliver a show that filled social media
with favorable comments.

Part of the show’s success lay in the fact that, in many ways, the design team took a markedly different, more unabashedly theatrical approach. In preserving what makes Jesus Christ Superstar exciting theatre, they guaranteed an electric television experience. It also restored the feeling of provocation associated with the piece when composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice released it as a concept album in 1970.

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