“Jesus Christ Superstar” is in no way supposed to be an accurate retelling of biblical texts, instead using the commonly known story of Jesus as a metaphor for the pitfalls of celebrity, and the importance of seeing all people for the human beings they are. The show’s central message is that there’s danger to putting someone up on a pedestal — whether they be famous musicians, politicians, or the alleged son of God.
When “JCS” debuted on stage in 1971, the show sparked massive controversy. Christian religious groups called it “blasphemous,” Jews called it antisemitic, and political conservatives found the stylized nature of the music “too radical.” The show was banned in Hungary and South Africa upon release, but in the 50 years since it first hit the stage, cultural progress and an increased understanding of media literacy has all but washed these controversies away.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice intentionally left out the parables and Christian doctrine typically found in religious musicals (I’m looking at you, “Godspell”), declaring the show as theologically neutral. I believe them. This isn’t the story of Jesus Christ, the religious figure and alleged savior of the people: This is the story of a superstar. His sympathetic victimhood comes not at the cost of his sacrificial destiny, the way a film like “The Passion of the Christ” chose to portray. Instead, Jesus Christ is characterized like Elvis Presley or one of the Beatles, with his growing number of followers more closely resembling a rabid fanbase than a set of disciples. “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing, Mystifying” plays less like the gospel and more like the deranged demands made by fans during a pop star’s livestream.