The Rev. Canon Robert H. Bryant
The moment it first appeared, Jesus Christ Superstar caught my heart and my imagination. It was, after all, about my Lord’s last week of earthly life, but even as some folks deemed it sacrilegious, I found it deeply moving, and thought-provoking. Yes, it paints Judas Iscariot in a more sympathetic light than is traditional; yes, Jesus isn’t always calm and serene in it, but it reminds us that in our insistence on a stained-glass Jesus, meek and mild, we often forget the scriptural Jesus who chided his disciples for their lack of understanding, totally lost his temper when he cast the moneychangers from the Temple, and agonized over God’s will for him in the Garden of Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood.
Ever since my college days, all someone had to do was hum the opening bars of the Overture, and I was off and running, singing practically the whole show from memory. After years of being Rector at St. John the Baptist, and hearing folks say, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a musical?”, I realized that with all the talent that surrounded us in our own choir, neighboring parish choirs with whom we have collaborated, the OES community, and many colleagues who sing with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, now was the time.
From the beginning, the idea was to present this show in the Church. I soon realized that I also wanted to use the building and liturgical actions to make connections with Jesus’ passion and what we do in worship. I also wanted people to not just see this as the telling of a story that happened long ago, but to realize ourselves as part of the story. The best way to do that was to set it in present times. That means the audience will see the chorus as a present-day church choir; Jesus will be a Jewish yoga-instructor, his disciples coming from all walks of life in Portland (hipsters, lumberjacks, businessmen, soccer players, techies, etc.). Judas will be dressed as an accountant (since he kept the group purse); Pilate will be a judge, and the Roman soldiers, police. Caiaphas and Annas will be decked out as bishops, and the priests will all be played by Episcopal priests, dressed as such. This is all in the way of reminding us that it was not so much the Romans or the Jews who put Jesus to death, but the government and religious leadership—in other words, respectable society.
This has been such an amazing project to work on, and I am thrilled that it’s performance will lead us into Holy Week. The soloists are unbelievably accomplished performers from the world of opera, jazz, and musical theater. And the final teaser I will throw out is that the ending will be unlike any performance of Superstar that you’ve ever seen!.
More event details and tickets are available here. Join us to be part of a Holy Week you’ll never forget!