The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar combined emotionally wrenching music and lyrics employing contemporary idiom to speak to the post-hippie 1970’s generation in a radically new form that brought the story of Jesus alive for an idealistic, young, but largely secular and agnostic generation. Librettist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber daringly presented the story of Jesus’ final days in contemporary terms, raising doubt about a number of Christian assumptions.
The first of these is the divine nature of Jesus. Jesus’ divinity is questioned at several points, but the most powerful doubt is presented in the title song. Sung by Judas after that disciple returns from the dead, the song asks, sarcastically and with some vitriol, if Christ is really what he thinks he is, and, if he is the Son of God, why he let things “get so out of hand.” When asked by Pilate if he is what his followers claim, Jesus answers that he is what they say he is. All is doubt, but Jesus’ prophecies about who will betray him and who will deny him do come true. Obversely, though Judas is resurrected, the opera ends short of the resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, Christ cries from the cross as a suffering human, calling out that he is thirsty and pleading for his mother.
The question of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is raised throughout: Mary is seen comforting and caressing Jesus, but especially when she sings the powerful song...
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