Jesus Christ Superstar at The Wharf

With Jesus Christ Superstar coming to Devizes’ Wharf Theatre, I’m pondering, just how outrageous was it at the time, and how has adaptations and satires of biblical stories become more acceptable?  

So yeah, from what I remember, knee-high to a puppy at the time, he came down from heaven on a Yamaha, pulled a skid, killed a kid, trapped his balls in a dustbin lid.

Other rhymes circulated school playgrounds nationwide, but all the variations of the Jesus Christ Superstar theme were considered on the topper-most level of naughtiness, most likely because we figured it lampooned Jesus. When in all actual fact, above the tittering of school children, had the damage not already been done by the very thing we were parodying?

In a competitive era when the concept album had come of age, so rock musicals and rock opera were becoming fashionable, one had to raise the controversy bar in order to get noticed. With Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat already under their belts and bugging religious zealots, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice knew blasphemy long before Madge frolicked with an ethnic Jesus in Like a Prayer.

Cover story was, by twisting the Easter story into modern terminology and themes, it reached out to a new generation, but many didn’t see it that way. Banned briefly by the BBC for being sacrilegious, Christian and Jewish orders despised the album alike, and the musical was banned in South Africa and Hungary.

Such was the narrative, focussing on Judas rather than Jesus, his fears the compassionate movement had become a cult, Jesus’s declarations being besmirched by his followers, and this was a dangerous game which would attract the attention of the Romans, not forgoing it was condoning the common assumption Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, it might seem an unusual choice for the Wharf Theatre in Devizes. Yet, if anything, the degrading in offensiveness of Jesus Christ Superstar, is symbolic of how far we’ve progressed and become more accepting towards biblical adaptations and ret-cons.

After all Monty Python’s Life of Brian was only eight short years away, and today we live in a world where Homer Simpson prays for doughnuts, Trey Parker and Matt Stone depict Jesus in a boxing match with Satan or else hosting a call-in chat show called “Jesus and Pals,” and even locally where The Boot Hill All Stars sing a song about a “tiny Jesus” crucified on a hot cross bun!

For extreme retroactive continuity of the character of Judas, though, I’d highly recommend the self-published series by author Roy Bright, whereby, punished by God with immortality and banished to Earth, Judas rights his wrong by becoming a super-heroic, Hollywood-fashioned action hero!

Still, the revival of the controversial musical is trending, which through the aforementioned hullabaloo, took best part of decade to alter from rock opera album to the stage in London, and only because of its success in the USA. A new production was staged at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Ontario, in 2011, and by the 45th anniversary of its run, on Broadway, it returned to London at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Whether you were intrigued or outraged at the time, or if like me, too young to form an opinion further than the amusing notion of Jesus’s nad-sack caught in a dustbin lid, to see it now might cast a different perspective on the synopsis than how it was perceived at the time, and you can do exactly that, a stone throw away.

A rescheduled performance from last year, The Really Useful Group Ltd presents Jesus Christ Superstar at Devizes Wharf Theatre from Friday 10th to Saturday 18th September. The strapline runs, Jesus must be stopped….  which is tricky to say the least, I mean, on a Yamaha and all!

It will, at last, be open to a full house, after restrictions have reduced capacity of our lovely theatre, and Devizine wishes it well. “It has been a long hard wait,” expresses publicity manager Karen, “as we were due to stage this just days after the first lockdown was announced.” And further to this, plans are ahead for the Christmas panto, Dick Whittington, with auditions on Wednesday next week, 18th August.

The box office is also open for the adaption of The Navy Lark, a classic radio comedy which originally featured Leslie Phillips, Dennis Price, Ronnie Barker and Jon Pertwee, on 2nd October, and Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show on the 16th.

The end of October sees an hilarious farce play, based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, dubbed ‘the worst singer in the world’ in 1940s New York, running from 25th to the 30th of October, and a one-off on the 16th November, Dan Clews portrays Paul Simon in The Paul Simon Story.

Wharf Theatre

Tickets can be purchased by ringing 03336 663 366; from the website Wharftheatre.co.uk and at the Devizes Community Hub and Library on Sheep Street.


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