After more than twenty centuries, Jesus Christ remains equally relevant today. The story of Christ fascinates, inspires and gives rise to countless individual interpretations. Writers, composers and visual artists have portrayed the Son of God in the most diverse ways.
The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was initially released by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber as a music album. The cover of the much-discussed album features twelve widely varying depictions of Jesus Christ. The portraits are by famous old masters, all of whom present their own view. In that way, creators Rice and Webber show that they too are merely attempting to reinterpret this inexhaustible theme. That this album would lead to various musicals and a film adaptation is something that the two could only have dreamed of at the time.
Jesus Christ Superstar was inspired by the Biblical story, but has marked differences from the Christian interpretation. What is most interesting about Jesus Christ Superstar is the perspective that Rice and Lloyd Webber have chosen. The main focus, after all, is not on Jesus Christ, but on Judas Iscariot. Rice presents the good intentions of Judas; even as he contradicts and criticises Jesus, he means well. In his version, Judas is stronger and more intelligent, while Jesus comes across as weak and emotional. These traits make him less godlike and more human than in the Biblical story.
Mary Magdalene is also given a status in Jesus Christ Superstar that differs from the Biblical version. She is in love with Jesus, although she cannot openly admit it.
During the Last Supper, Jesus predicts his fate and identifies Judas as a traitor. Judas is intelligent and senses what is about to happen. He realises that he is actually doing Jesus a favour – albeit a bloody one – with his treachery. After all, it labels Judas as a traitor and enables Jesus to fulfil his divine purpose.
Lloyd Webber and Rice allow Jesus to express his doubts and questions to God. Jesus is aware of his fate, but ponders with a tormenting uncertainty what the point is of the difficult task.
Judas also no longer measures up to the task and is ultimately destroyed by the conflicting nature of his situation.
With Jesus Christ Superstar, Tim Rice tells the legend of Christ in a completely unique way. But it is not just his script that’s rock solid. With his music, Andrew Lloyd Webber has made a formidable contribution to the show's success. Time after time, he is able to strike exactly the right chord. The variety of musical building blocks that he uses is therefore extensive. In the music of Jesus Chris Superstar, symphonic parts are combined with blues, folk, and gospel passages, while hymns are intensified by electronic sound effects. This acoustic mixture runs parallel to the libretto, in which past and present are intertwined. Thanks to the use of a large orchestra, fashioned to produce an extravagant acoustic mix, the musical can truly be called a rock opera.
Together, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have succeeded in creating a musical masterpiece. Without being aware of it at the time, with Jesus Christ Superstar, they created one of the most important dramatic musical works of the twentieth century.