by Quentin Long
©2007 Quentin Long
I recently had the good fortune to attend a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar with 20-year-veteran Ted Feeney in the title role, and Corey Glover (late of Living Color) as Judas Iscariot. JCS is interesting in that it has no spoken dialogue whatsoever; all of the words are song lyrics. As well, the set for this performance was deliberately, aggressively minimalista couple of one-step-tall platforms at certain points on the stage; an overpass crossing from right to left at the back of the stage; an occasional piece of cloth hanging down from above; and thats it. The two headliners performed their songs very well; the rest of the cast played their roles with skill; the orchestra supported the actors competently. In sum, everyone involved with this production, both on- and off-stage, had clearly put a great deal of work into it.
But in spite of all its good points the performance I saw was a failure. Characters were not introduced (no dialogue, remember?); they just kinda showed up. And if you couldn't immediately recognize a character on sight, that was just too damn bad for you, because the script sure as Hell wasn't going to drop any hints. Worse, this performance did not tell its story in a coherent fashion: It flatly demanded that its audience supply their own pre-existing familiarity with the plot, on pain of being utterly unable to figure out what the hell was happening up on the stage!
Of course, it just so happens that the plot of JCS is a seriously major chunk of the Christian belief system. As such, its actually not a bad bet that all the members of any given audience will know the plot before they walk into the theatre. The thing is, the audience is going to need to know the plot before they walk into the theatreand that is bad storytelling. Can you imagine how impenetrably opaque JCS would be if it werent adapted from a story that God knows how many millions of evangelists have actively propagated over the past two millennia or so?
The take-home lesson here: Its a good thing when a story is self-contained, such that it includes all the information a reader needs before they can understand whats going on.