You might have missed in the flurry of all the Very Important News that has come our way this week: NBC has announced its next planned live musical. Instead of being broadcast in December, when Americans of all stripes are gathered happily around their hearths with their souls stirred by the festivity and warmth of the season—because in most places it’s already too cold and miserable to go outside, anyway—this latest endeavor will appear on Easter, a time when Americans traditionally gorge themselves on Cadbury Mini-Eggs for months, wonder if the White House will actually be able to pull off the Easter Egg Roll, and say to grocery store clerks: “Wait, when is Easter again?”
Oh, and the live musical? Jesus Christ Superstar.
I hate Jesus Christ Superstar, just as I hate all biblically-themed, pseudo-spiritual hippie nonsense from the ‘60’s and ‘70s with no book, and people in fringed pants and clown makeup pretending to be apostles or prophets or whatever (see Godspell or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, although I can handle the latter a little better as it brings back vivid childhood memories of being taken to see it at a matinee performance and getting into a minor but extremely exciting car accident afterwards with my parents, forever leading me to positively associate live theater with fascinating familial upheaval.) I like my musical theater tart, sophisticated, and irreligious, but I recognize that there are those who disagree with me, and many of them are people I deeply respect!
However, I’m afraid that this is an omen of dark times to come. NBC’s last live musical was Hairspray, a show with a buoyant message of inclusiveness that felt like the defiant antidote we needed a month after the shocking outcome of the election: We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fat, we’re black, we’re Jewish, and we’re colorful and weird, and we’re not going anywhere, no matter what a bunch of people in West Virginia might want.
Jesus Christ Superstar, on the other hand, feels like a regression to the dark pop cultural days of the Bush Administration, when all the “coastal liberal elites” (and yes, feel free to interpret that as Jews, because we all know who I’m talking to, and about) decided that the Christians were a giant demographic bloc that needed constant pandering to, lest they rise up in anger or stop watching television or something; hence the Left Behind movies and “Country Night” on American Idol, when no less a smirking Satanic minion that Simon Cowell had to watch a weepy teenager from Oklahoma thank Jesus after performing an off-key cover of a Christian rock song and pretend to be visibly moved. And now American Idol is coming back.
Of all the things that have bothered me over the last few months, this is at least in the top 5. I don’t have anything against “faith-based” culture, except when people try to pretend it has anything to do with art, a notion that should have gone out with the Renaissance era. Faith is all about the destruction of ambiguity, and art is about the tension of living within it. To paraphrase the great poet W.H. Auden, who knew something about this: “Hamilton is not wanted now; put out every one/Pack up Transparent and dismantle the sun.”
I thought good art would last forever. I was wrong. And now I’d better figure out some “take” on the Archangel Gabriel solving spiritual crimes here on Earth to pitch to network.