With NBC’s TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert fast approaching, Talk Nerdy With Us had the opportunity to talk with two of the production’s Executive Producers, Neil Meron and Marc Platt, about the casting process, the in-concert style of the production, and what they want audiences to get out of the experience.
The full cast of the production has now been announced. John Legend will portray the titular character, Sara Bareilles will star as Mary Magdalene, Broadway star Brandon Victor Dixon will play Judas, and Alice Cooper will be King Herod. Also starring in this production are Norm Lewis, Ben Daniels, Jason Tam, Jin Ta, and Erik Gronwall. British director David Leveaux will helm the presentation.
Boasting a unique and exciting cast of rock stars, pop stars, and musical theatre favorites, it is clear the Executive Producers (who also include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Craig Zadan, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and Alex Rudzinski) had a clear vision of how they wanted the show to look and sound.
We asked Platt and Meron if they always had the plan to have a balance of pop/rock stars and musical theatre artists, or if it just happened naturally. Meron shared that it was probably a bit of both. “We wanted a combination because it isn’t just singing songs. These songs need to be acted. So when you examine the piece, you want people that can do both and [for] some of the roles, you want a little bit more, like for the role of Pilot, and even Judas is incredibly complex in this particular telling of the story.” He added that it is also important for this show to have a level of authenticity in terms of a ‘rock’ and ‘pop’ sound, which is why the inclusion of Alice Cooper, John Legend and Sara Bareilles is invaluable. As Platt points out, both Legend and Bareilles have acting experience, Bareilles is currently in her second run starring in the musical Waitress, which she wrote the music and lyrics for, and Legend appeared in the acclaimed movie La La Land last year.
In response to a question about the unique casting choice of Alice Cooper in the role of King Herod, Meron pointed out that Cooper actually has a history with this role. He sang the part on a UK album of the rock opera about 10 years ago. Meron added that it was actually lyricist and Executive Producer Tim Rice who suggested Alice Cooper for the role when the team began suggesting names. “Tim said, ‘What about Alice?’ because he’s in the family. He’s terrific. He would lend that rock authenticity. He has that outrageous persona that seems to be very right for King Herod.”
This exciting musical event will be broadcast live from the Marcy Amory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Meron spoke of the “rawness of the space” being exactly what they were looking for. “We wanted to strip it of a lot of theatricality and go to the essence of concert and have some theatrical staging mixed in.” Platt added, “We want to deliver the story of Jesus Christ Superstar but also the immersive experience of being at a concert so that you the viewer at home watching on his or her TV… feels like they are immersed in this live event concert.” Platt explained that the space has an “urban kind of raw feel” and the goal of the telecast is to give viewers the “excitement and that fervor that you feel when you’ve been in a concert.”
As for why the event is being held as a concert instead of the format that fans might be used to from past live TV musical events, Meron explains that the original basis for Jesus Christ Superstar was the live concert album and he believes Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s original vision for the rock opera was to have it done as more of a concert.
With such an exciting line-up of artists, Talk Nerdy With Us had to ask if there were plans in the works to create an album of this production. Meron stated there is indeed a chance. “We’re trying!” added Platt.
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert will air on NBC on April 1, 2018. Time TBD.