Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 911
Although the Gospels tell of Christ and his crucifixion, there always remain questions about Jesus’ divinity. Jesus Christ Superstar was first recorded in 1970 as a rock opera, the story of the final days of Jesus’ life presented in a contemporary idiom. After the record’s release, the opera was staged on Broadway in 1971 and in London in 1972, and it was released as a film in 1973. The rock opera, among the first of its genre, has since seen many stage productions around the world.
The work begins with an aria by Jesus’ disciple and later betrayer Judas, in which he worries that Jesus has gone too far and that his message of love and peace is being distorted into a call for rebellion against the Roman rulers, who Judas is sure will destroy all of Israel. The scene then turns to Christ’s followers, who are excited about the upcoming entry into Jerusalem and sing out, “What’s the Buzz?” Jesus is disturbed by the talk of rebellion, but Mary Magdalene comforts him, much to the dismay of Judas, who decries Mary’s sordid reputation as a prostitute. Angered, Jesus points out that only those without sin should cast stones. Mary calms Jesus, telling him to try not to worry in the soothing song “Everything’s Alright.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas meets with his council, who urge him to kill Jesus before the Romans lose their tempers. Caiaphas agrees; Jesus is a threat to the priests’ authority as much as that of the Romans. As Jesus and his followers make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Simon Zealotes urges rebellion against the Romans. Saddened, Jesus argues that they have misunderstood his message.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, is troubled by a recurring nightmare in which a haunted-looking man appears and is torn apart by a roomful of angry people who keep mentioning Pilate’s name. Pilate worries about the blame he would incur if ever such an event occurred. The scene then changes from Pilate to the rage of Jesus at finding the temple in Jerusalem filled with merchants and moneylenders. He furiously drives everyone out and then finds a quiet place to relax, only to be smothered by a crowd of lepers and paupers begging for his help. Mary Magdalene appears and leads him off to an isolated area, where she comforts him with song and caresses. As Christ falls asleep, Mary Magdalene, in emotional torment about the actual nature of her feelings, sings, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” in which she wonders whether there is an all-too-human sexual attraction involved in her platonic love for Christ. She also considers the question of whether Jesus is more than just another man: “He’s just a man, but. . . .”
Judas, however, is convinced that Jesus is becoming a dangerous image to his followers, who will not stop until they incur the wrath of the Romans. Judas goes to the Jewish high priests for counsel, and they persuade him that his worries are real and that he should tell them where to find Jesus. In the belief that he will save all of his people, Judas agrees to reveal Jesus’ location.
Jesus and his disciples gather in the Garden of Gethsemane for a Passover supper. There is consternation when Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him and that Judas will betray him. Judas responds by furiously pointing out that Christ has been too ambitious and has let everything get out of control. Jesus tells Judas to...
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