It may have been roundly criticized on Broadway last season, but Gale Edwards' update of Andrew Lloyd Webber's controversial rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar" (PBS, April 11, check local listings), makes engrossing television.

The show was a breakthrough in musical theater when it opened in the 1971. Some felt its dynamic rock score might better have been employed in another story. It's just as distressing as ever for some of us to see this central figure of Western civilization reduced to a troubled, if famous man, who doesn't understand what he is up against in the evil of human thought. It's not particularly good as theology or as history.

But what this new version does do is underscore the contradictions of the human mind. The impulse to betray the figure of greatest good is seen to be an ongoing one. As Judas puts it in his opening song, "Heaven on Their Minds": "Every word you say today gets twisted 'round some other way." It isn't just Judas who turns on Jesus.

Jérôme Pradon is a remarkable actor who gives Judas layers of intelligence and insight.

Mary Magdalene (Renee Castle) represents the faithfulness of some of Jesus' followers. And Glenn Carter gives Jesus a genuine lovingkindness that translates well to the small screen.

Still, the vision of Weber and lyricist Tim Rice is political and limited.

"I don't think for one second that this portrayal is the real Jesus," said Mr. Carter in a recent interview. "We approached the whole thing as an emotional journey ... but it's incredibly relevant right now. Religious minorities are being suppressed."

  -MS Mason, Television Critic
The Christian Science Monitor