In 1973, Norman Jewison brought Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice√s play Jesus Christ Superstar to the screen, two years after the musical play had created a sensation. The play "and the movie" focuses on the last seven days of Jesus' life. Filmed in Israel, the movie brought a distinctive look to the musical, with a jarring mix of contemporary and more historically "appropriate" costumes and production design. Sticking pretty close to the play with the story told through song rather than dialogue, the movie garnered a mixed response, including from some Christians who were troubled by how Judas and some of the other "villains" of Jesus' story are portrayed positively in the film.
More than a quarter century later, stage directors Gale Edwards and Nick Morris filmed the musical again, but this is a very different version from the 1973 Jewison film. Or at least, it looks very different, as this is a filmed stage play, not a location-based movie. The memorable songs are all here ranging from "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Gethsamane" to "Superstar" and they are generally performed well. It could certainly be argued that the singing is better here than in Jewison's movie.
But there the advantages of the 2000 movie version run out and it begins to look pretty flimsy compared to its predecessor. The biggest problem here is that this isn't really a movie at all, but a filmed play that never leaves the stage and never attains any of the visual delights that made Jewison's effort seem like much more than a play brought to the screen. It's spare and static and less than thrilling to watch.
As for acting, there really isn't a whole lot that goes on here. The songs take up almost the entire movie, leaving physical demeanour and facial expressions as all that the actors have left to attend to. The key players here are Glenn Carter as Jesus Christ, Jerome Pradon as Judas, and Renee Castle as Mary Magdaline. Carter is tall and classically distinctive looking and has a great singing voice. Lacking the beard that is commonly associated with Jesus, he also doesn't possess the sort of charisma you might expect, given who he's playing. This might be a case of the intrusive camera noticing what isn't usually an issue onstage, as it's Ted Neeley's eyes in the 1973 version that tell the biggest story, and one's eyes just don't have the same impact onstage. As for the other main cast members, Pradon is the most expressive character here -even if his voice doesn't compare with Carter's-and Castle is beautiful and solid in her role.
There's nothing awful about this play. It's just that there's nothing new either. For the life of me, I can't think why someone would choose to watch this one over the 1973 version.
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