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Arts & Culture

'Jesus Christ Superstar' As Time Capsule

Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene and Paul Nolan as Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," currently running at The La Jolla Playhouse before it heads to Broadway. Photo by David Hou.
Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene and Paul Nolan as Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," currently running at The La Jolla Playhouse before it heads to Broadway. Photo by David Hou.

Caution: This story is best consumed via the radio story below. That way you get to hear the music. But you'll likely hear the music all day in your head.

'Jesus Christ Superstar' As Time Capsule
If you grew up during the 1970s, there’s a chance the music of "Jesus Christ Superstar" was a part of your youth. The famed musical is currently playing at the La Jolla Playhouse. KPBS arts and culture reporter Angela Carone says the latest staging has her feeling nostalgic.

I have distinct memories of rushing home from Catholic school to meet my sister in what appeared to be your average 1970s living room, though to us, it was a grand stage rising before thousands. Cue first dramatic chords of theme song to "Jesus Christ Superstar."

We’d put the album on our record player, drop that needle into the groove, and take our places.

Despite years in Catholic school, we grew up in a secular home, so the Passion of Christ as presented in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ("Cats," "Phantom of the Opera") musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" made sense to us. It brought the men and women of the New Testament to life, aided by music we could sing and dance to.

I love the way popular culture can serve as a portal back to one’s youth. The music you blared out the car windows on your first solo drive will stick with you forever as a relic of newfound power and freedom.

And while "Jesus Christ Superstar" was in constant rotation in my Erie, Pennsylvania living room, another 10-year-old was obsessing over it in… Abu Dhabi.

Stephanie Thompson is a public relations consultant here in San Diego. "We had a little house in Abu Dhabi and I had my own room for the first time in my life. And I had a stereo. I would sit in my room, after school, almost every day, playing albums. I mean, that’s what we did."

Like me and my sister, Thompson would sing along to Mary Magdelane’s tortured love song about Jesus. (Cue: "I Don't Know To Love Him."

Thomson remembers "I had only the faintest inkling of what was to come with puberty and relationships and I just thought, 'Okay, I guess I’ll understand this someday.'"

Thompson ended up writing out ALL the lyrics to "Jesus Christ Superstar" in her journal. "I just started writing and I just kept going and it took days. It gave me such a sense of completion to have written it out. I felt like I was almost participating in it in a different way."

My friend Aaron McFarland grew up in San Diego in a religious household. He says "the fact that this was rock and roll and it was Jesus and it was, you know, screaming guitars…. Jesus being cool was way cooler than Jesus being scary."

McFarland was a self-described “musical theater nerd” in high school. Such entrée landed him certain skills. "I figured out how to sing 'Jesus Christ Superstar' in Pig Latin and it, it always just kind of stuck with me. [SINGS IN PIG LATIN]" (if that doesn't get you to listen to the radio version, I don't know what will!)

The Carriage House is a karaoke bar in San Diego. They recently held a 'Jesus Christ Superstar' karaoke night and Joe Ries was there to sing. Reis works for Broadway San Diego as an operations manager.

Before Ries got up to sing, I asked him which song from the musical is his favorite. "I’m a fan of the King Herod's song. That’s the role I’d want to play if I could sing. It’s a lot of fun, it’s one song and you’re done." Ries got his chance, and received a little help from the crowd.

(King Herod's performance in the Stratford production at LJP is delightfully campy!)

"King Herod’s Song" happens to be my favorite as well. It’s catchy and irreverent. But mostly, it takes me back to when my sister and I joined arms in a Rockette’s style kick line for our big finish. Cue the fun that is "King Herod's Song."

"Jesus Christ Superstar" runs through December 31st at the La Jolla Playhouse. It then moves on to Broadway.

Tune into Midday Edition today at 12noon to hear an interview with "JCS" director Des McAnuff. He'll also be on KPBS-TV this Friday during Evening Edition, which airs at 6:30pm.

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