BDBB: The Black Dance and Broadway Blog

Covering black professionals and professional productions in the dance and theater worlds, plus general arts news

Theater: “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” is the Broadway Live experience theater fans have been waiting for; Was it enough?

main-jesus-christ-superstar-live-john-legend-sara-bareilles-alice-cooper

Photo courtesy Jesus Christ Superstar Live

So, if you’re a theater fan you’ve no doubt weighed in on NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” shown on Easter Sunday night. You’ve also undoubtedly waded through all of the reaction on social media as well as the dozens of reviews flooding the media.

For the record, most mainstream media outlets called this live concert version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical a critical smash.

Here’s some of what the New York Times had to say:

With the R&B hitmaker John Legend playing Jesus Christ, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas Iscariot, NBC’s “Superstar” didn’t lack for talent or star power, drawn as it was from the worlds of pop and theater. The real masterstroke, though, was the decision to perform live before a large audience at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Brooklyn.

Of course, the production received its share of criticism. John Legend, as Jesus, is not an actor, though he more than held his own when it came to performing some of the major songs in the score such as “Gethsemane”

 

Much was also made (deservedly so) about the sometimes distracting reactions from the audience which seemed to remain in full party/ rock concert mode even during some of the score’s more serious moments.

Of course, a lot of people still have fond memories of the original cast such as Broadway’s original Mary Magdalene Yvonne Elliman:

 

But the Broadway Live cast earned almost universal praise, especially Brandon Victor Dixon’s electric portrayal of Judas:

 

Other standout performances included Broadway stalwart Norm Nixon as Caiaphas, Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Jason Tam as Peter and Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene.

Behind the scenes, the production boasted the stellar work of veterans from the theater and concert dance worlds –  British theater director David Leveaux, production design by Jason Ardizzone-West, costume design by Paul Tazewell, music direction by Nigel Wright, choreography by Camille A. Brown, and lighting design by Al Gurdon.

 

While “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” was an artistic success, it wasn’t necessarily a commercial television success.

Yes, it had relatively good ratings for a Sunday evening not featuring football. But compared to past live musicals produced by NBC, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” was the lowest rated musical yet.

Here are the numbers according to AdAge:

According to preliminary Nielsen data, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour spectacle averaged 9.34 million viewers and a 1.7 in NBC’s target demo, which works out to around 2.2 million adults 18 to 49.

NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt revived the long-dormant format back in December 2013, when the Peacock’s broadcast of “The Sound of Music Live!” earned its stripes as the first live TV musical in 56 years. Starring Carrie Underwood as Maria von Trapp, the $10 million production was a smash success, drawing 18.6 million viewers and a 4.6 in the demo.

Subsequent NBC musicals put up lesser ratings, with the 2014 “Peter Pan Live!” drawing 9.21 million viewers and a 2.4 rating among the 18-to-49 set, while the following year saw “The Wiz Live!” rebound with 11.5 million viewers and a 3.4 in the demo. Prior to Sunday night’s event, the 2016 staging of “Hairspray Live!” had the dubious distinction of being NBC’s least-watched, lowest-rated musical of the series, averaging 9.05 million viewers and a 2.3 rating.

So perhaps this one was a success, but with an asterisk.

 

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