I’d never seen this show before, but a roommate I had in university was a fan of musicals and specifically adored this one by Andrew Lloyd Webber. She often had the original soundtrack playing in her stereo.
It’s been 15 years since I heard any music from it but last week while hanging out with the Man, he out-of-the-blue remarked on the musical, clearly expressing his annoyance at the way some performers choose to speak the lyrics instead of sing them. Knock me over with a noodle for that alone, but then he sings a part of it to demonstrate. Hang on a tickety-boo here. He knows the lyrics to this (Turns out he once had the soundtrack on cassette and loved it to death). I knew his tastes were eclectic, but who knew they’d extend as far as a rock opera with singing and dancing men? (And in this particular version I watched – if camera positioning and direction mean what they look like they mean, Jesus was surrounded by sexy gay men who would have fought tooth and nail for the chance to suck his dick had Jesus gotten around to asking them to do it. There’s a scene where three of these guys are kneeling at just the right height…)
So, for those who don’t know how the story goes (har har!), I’ll explain a few things.
This made-for-TV version is set in a contemporary Jerusalem instead of 33 AD (are other versions the same?) and Judas starts the show off. They’re a day and a night away from the crucifixion. Judas feels like he’s seen the future and is trying to tell Jesus he’s become a giant problem and needs to realize it.
“You’ve begun to matter more than the things you say,” Judas sings. Judas is right; by this point, Christ is the de facto charismatic leader of a giant group of downtrodden people willing to do anything for him, and worse: willing to do whatever they think he wants them to do – from killing themselves to prove their love, to killing others.
Judas reminds him that he has been his “right-hand man all along” and is the only one who would have enough influence over Jesus, but Jesus is being an arrogant prick who isn’t in the mood to hear reason. Judas is the only one who’ll tell him what needs saying, and this is making him very unpopular.
Caesar is King, recall. “Something Christ, King of the Jews” is what people have been calling Jesus, and this is a problem for the Romans, obviously. This is a man in need of being taken down a notch. And since Jesus isn’t listening to a word Judas sings, Judas realizes that giving (selling?) Jesus to the Romans may be the only way to stop Jesus and this freight train of popularity rolling toward a destructive end. It might be the only way to save all of them.
Judas is pretty critical of a lot of things Jesus is doing, including starting things up with Mary Magdalen. “People who are starving matter more than your feet and hair,” Judas cries out, when he finds out Mary wants to sooth the man’s troubles with expensive myrrh. He’s derisive in terms of her employment choices, too, claiming Christ’s time with her sends the opposite message to his flock. But like Judas, Mary cares about and loves Jesus the Man, not just Jesus the Message. Her compassion extends to reassuring Judas as well, that troubles can wait a day. Let the man rest.
But maybe Judas has had some effect on Christ after all. He’s starting to think about his end being nigh and what that will mean for those he leaves behind, especially knowing what a couple plan to do before he leaves them behind. But there’s a moment where the followers ask Jesus if he’ll die for them. The look Judas gives… it’s clear Judas sees this betrayal of his friend as the only way out of this situation, and then sorely regrets it.
So yeah, not to spoil the ending, but Jesus dies. Judas is riddled with guilt over selling him out and kills himself before Christ’s even strung up. Peter feels like shit for also betraying the man to save himself (three denials of knowing Jesus) and Mary, Simon, and whoever else was in his inner apostle circle has to live without him now, and yet pass on his message so no one forgets who Christ was and what he meant for the people forced to live under Caesar’s rule.
I think the saddest parts of the film involve Judas and what he’s going through, but there’s a scene where Christ just cleared a temple of degenerates and is soon mobbed by lepers who know he’s known as a miracle worker. He’s overwhelmed by their need to be saved by him and is begging for some relief from their pressure. He finally screams at them to heal themselves and they bugger off. Mary finds him after that and does her compassionate comforting routine. Then she sings a very beautiful ballad:
Should I bring him down
Should I scream and shout
Should I speak of love
Let my feelings out?
I never thought I’d come to this
What’s it all about?
Don’t you think it’s rather funny
I should be in this position?
I’m the one
Who’s always been
So calm so cool
No lover’s fool
Running every show
He scares me so
Judas sings a reprise later:
I don’t know how to love him
I don’t know why he moves me
He’s a man
He’s just a man
He’s not a king
He’s just the same
As anyone I know
He scares me so!
When he’s cold and dead
Will he let me be?
Does he love me too?
Does he care for me?
The things we’ll do for love. Sometimes those things are noble and sometimes they’re selfish and cruel. Sometimes we make mistakes when trying to do the right thing. Other times we know what needs doing, what needs saying, even when we know how much we’ll hurt and how much we’ll hurt someone else in the process. But if it needs to be done, is it fair to anyone not to go through with it? Would it be better to pretend the problem isn’t there? Is it better not to be honest? Where’s the line between protecting someone and letting the chips fall where they may?