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As a fanatic of JCS for almost thirty years, I hadn't expected to see as moving, deft, or superb a production -- especially not on movie -- as this. Aesthetically, at least, the work seemed locked in its time, as much imprisoned by late 60s guitar melody as by the dusty, overwrought 1973 movie by Norman Jewison and the different traveling productions that clunkily preserved the era's design fetishes. For the longest time, the greatest method to approach JCS has been on your stereo. Which is a pity; it's a musical, for chrissakes.So Gale Edwards' ver is a surprise, and a right great one. She's correct to design and scene this for the post-MTV generation, a decision that pays off hugely in scenes that imagine Caiaphas and his priests as corporate boardroom cutthroats or Simon's beseeching of Jesus to "add a touch of hate at Rome" while the crowd heedlessly and joyously lofts machine guns. If it's flash, it's clever flash, keen takes on the themes of revolt and its repercussions. It's witty, too: her Herod doing gay burlesque is the greatest visualization to date for Webber and Rice's memorable set piece. Some will feel Edwards' gambles in the last quarter of the work - discomfortingly blending bloody realism with the mordantly surreal and the leeringly profane - are reaching, and they are, somewhat, but they don't betray the production. This isn't giddy "Godspell," after all; it's a storyline about political murder.The performances by the principles are superb. JCS is really Judas' story, and here Jerome Pradon's skulking, wincing, exasperated Judas is everytime watchable, and his singing good, although the limits of his range occasionally show. Rene Castle as Magdalene is fine enough to create you forget Yvonne Elliman; her shift between erotic spell and damaged idealism is something to see. Glenn Carter as Jesus, looking something like a youthful Robert Plant and sounding not unlike him, too, conceives his role as a troubled, unsure savior, an interpretation vastly better than those of his many predecessors in the role who relied on know-it-all saintliness (something the play's text doesn't support, anyway). Another standouts: Fred Johanson's stalking fascistic Pilate, and Rik Mayall's hilarious Herod.Judging from the ongoing appeal of Christianity, the Best Storyline Ever Said doesn't need revitalizing, at least not in the eyes of its adherents, but JCS did. Edwards' many grace notes are perhaps not as necessary as her greatest gift to the story: locating it convincingly in a dark and ferocious political globe and reminding that the official tolerance for justice, mercy, and charity is no greater two millenia later. Future messiahs, beware.
An interesting production, with a more "modernized" style (which was deliberate on the producers' and director's part, if you watch the post-tape "making of"). All the musical numbers are there, and that's everytime the strongest part of any JCS production. Glenn Carter is mostly harmless. Jerome Pradon gives it all, but no one seems able to decide exactly what his character's motivation is. He ranges from sarcastic and demeaning towards Jesus early on, towards a more "tortured" aspect as he is drawn into the betrayal.Fred Johanson and Renee Castle are probably the strongest consistent performers throughout. Rik Mayall seems low as Herod, apparently cast here more as a novelty than anything. The Herod stage also demonstrates one of Carter's problems: he seems incapable of reacting here, almost unsure of _how_ he's supposed to be reacting, like Pradon throughout. Carter seems more concerned that he'll be stepped on by the Herod dancers then the fact he's on trial for his life.The staging is well done. The costuming is somewhat debateable. Okay, they wanted to modernize for the 21st century, but do we really need Roman guards dressed like Darth Vader and Pharisees dressed like Cenobites from Hellraiser? There's a curious de-emphasis on dancing and choreography: only the Herod piece is really powerful here. The "Simon Zealotes" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" numbers are irritatingly static.None of this really gets in the method of enjoying the core songs and book, however. I'd suggest it if you're a fanatic of Rice & Webber.
I really am stupefied by the amount of folks who claim to be 'longtime fans' of the original 1973 performance that now PREFER this ridiculously poor movie.Let's ignore, for a moment, the terrible casting decisions that may have been made. Let's ignore the fact that Judas didn't have the voice for Judas, that Jesus didn't have the range for Jesus, and that nearly each attempt made to add vibrato to any character's voice ended up sounding more like a vehicle going over street bumps.After all, compared to the rest of the movie, that's relatively minor stuff.Let's begin on what they did with the Judas character. In JC '73, Judas is a principled boy who loves Jesus as much if not more than the rest of the disciples. He is not a terrible boy by any stretch. Rather, he is a sort of tragic protagonist. He betrays Jesus in an attempt to save the rest of them: indeed, reading slightly between the lines, it is fully obvious that Jesus intended him to do so. Despite this fact, the guilt of what he'd done caused him to hang himself. In '73, Judas was -a nice man-. He was a hero that you should love, sympathize with, understand, and pity. In his final song, he descends (dressed as an angel) from heaven.In 2000, Judas is a leather-jacket wearing jerk that punches women, punches Jesus, licks Mary in the face for no apparent reason but to create her unhappy, and is really just an all- around creep. This makes it all the more strange when he suddenly becomes the conflicted character, because the lines call for it: one almost gets the feeling that he's just pretending to be a principled person so that folks won't hate him. You can almost see the look of glee on his face when he finds out that he can cause a stir over the ointment for Jesus' feet. When he wails about "being spattered with innocent blood," one gets the feeling more that he is concerned what history will think of him, than what has happened to Jesus. When he tells "to think I admired you, well actually I despise you," he MEANS it... and one wonders how far back the "admired" part refers to. Certainly before the present begins, because he seems to despise Jesus the whole play.Oh, by the way: in his final song in THIS rendition, he is dressed purely in red, amidst lights that resemble flames, surrounded by chorus-girls dressed in red, singing rudely in Jesus' face as he carries his cross. At one point, he stands on TOP of the cross, pinning Jesus to the ground as he sings spitefully at him.Gee, I wonder what THAT'S supposed to represent.Just this would have been enough for me to hate the movie: the defense of the actions of Judas Iscariot was one of the things I found the most strong about JC: S.However, I'll briefly go over a several more things.1: Jesus Christ was, to place it politely, a sissy. A complete, total sissy. He does not portray a powerful leader. He does not portray a holy figure. He is 100% unadulterated wuss. One might read this as a intelligent attempt to portray the emo subculture that has developed in these modern times, but I prefer to view it as overblown and ridiculous. 2: The Pharisees, much like what was done with Judas, are portrayed not just as terrible men, but evil men.3: Pilate was written to be a fair and just boy that ended up sentencing Jesus to his fate mostly because (a) he understood that Jesus was planning on becoming a martyr, and (b) he was scared of the mob. Pilate was portrayed in this ver as being a terrible man... which (similar to different scenes with Judas) made it very awkward when he defended Jesus before the mob.4: Simon's "You Receive The Power And The Glory" scene: what. the. hell. Simon Zealotes is urging Jesus to "add a touch of hate at Rome" to his sermons to incite the mob vs the Romans IMMEDIATELY AFTER a giant melee with Roman soldiers. While Simon is trying to convince Jesus to direct the mob to overthrow the Roman oppressors, the mob is already toting machine guns, new back at the sermon after kicking some Roman backside. It just makes no SENSE.I literally should go on for hours and hours about each tiny thing I hated about this movie. There was not a single voice stronger than the character's counterpart in '73. The acting, far from being "superior" to that in '73, is overblown, unconvincing, and stupid. The characters have been slaughtered. The POINT of the musical has been slaughtered. One of the best things about JC: S is how well it portrays the different shades of gray in the characters and events, and JC: S 2000 is purely, wholly black and white.I cannot comprehend in my wildest dreams how so many folks that claim to be long-time fanatics of this play/movie should POSSIBLY prefer this over the original.At all.Were there a 0 star option, I would select it.
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