Saturday, April 11, 2009

Musicals for the Easter Season

I admit that some holidays seem more predisposed to musical theatre. Independence Day has the woefully underrated 1776, several holidays (Christmas and New Year's most notably) are encompassed in Rent, and Christmas, for better or worse, has the stage adaptations of White Christmas, Meet Me in St. Louis, and approximately 500 versions of A Christmas Carol. However, some holidays don't seem suited for musicals. Imagine, for example, a musical about Arbor Day or Columbus Day, and you will see what I mean.

With this in mind, I've been trying to think of musicals that work with the Easter season. Besides the allegedly wretched musical version of The Ten Commandments (to give you an idea of how bad it was it starred Val Kilmer and never got remotely close to Broadway), there are some musicals that seem to fit this season of springtime, renewal, Christianity, and bunnies. Here are a few for you to consider:

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Before I begin on my discussion of this, let me point out that I said nothing about the quality of these musicals. While Joseph is not a terrible musical (I would watch it before Cats), the very fact that a revival once starred Donny Osmond sort of undermines its overall quality. However, for a musicalized version of the Old Testament, you could do a lot worse. The music is very hummable (to the point of being an ear wig) and the song that names every color possible is hysterical just because you can imagine Tim Rice frantically going through the dictionary trying to find any many colors as possible.

Godspell - This is not for everyone's tastes, and while I enjoy it to an extent, it is not my favorite musical ever. However, that said, if you want a musical about the New Testament and you find the very idea of watching Jesus Christ Superstar sacrilegious at this time of year, Godspell fits the bill. In short, it is a series of vignettes about the parables Jesus tells in the New Testament. He has followers (usually in clown makeup) and the story culminates in Jesus's death (sorry to ruin the ending). Interspersed with the often jokey and nonexistent storyline are a number of songs by Stephen Schwartz, who is also responsible for Wicked (you can make your judgment about this). A perennial favorite for high schools and community theatre, there is also a trippy and sometimes unwatchable film version of this movie starring a very young Victor Garber (and his enormous afro) as Jesus.

While I sound very critical of Godspell, it has some excellent moments. I happen to love Victor Garber, and he makes a convincing, if somewhat disturbing, Jesus in the film. One of my favorite songs in the play (and in the movie) is the vaudevillian "All for the Best," performed by Jesus and Judas. The film version of this song is particularly notable for the song's final moments, which take place on the then-uncompleted World Trade Center.

Jesus Christ Superstar - If you and your family are not of the purely religious persuasion or if you want to anger your super-Christian relatives during Easter, your best bet is this angry rock opera. This show managed to piss off a lot of people when it first premiered in the early 1970s. Besides neglecting to mention the resurrection to the argument that Judas was too sympathetic to the portrayal of Jesus as a person rather than as the Son of God, this musical had something for almost everyone to dislike.

Besides all of the controversy, the musical also features some of the best work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Superstar" are two of the best songs either man has ever written. The anger, irony, and sarcasm in "Superstar" is almost palpable.