Oklahoma City University’s Opera and Music Theater Company kicks off its 60th-anniversary season Friday with the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the classic tells the story of the final days of Jesus’ life from Judas Iscariot’s point of view.
Forty years after it made its Broadway debut, “Jesus Christ Superstar” firmly has entrenched itself into pop culture. Although it’s had its share of controversies, the work has been accepted by many Christians, as evidenced by this production being at OCU, a Methodist school.
“We’ve had wonderful participation from the School of Religion as we prepared the show,” said Karen Coe Miller, production director and OCU assistant director of opera and musical theater.
Professor Sharon Betsworth, director of Wimberly School of Religion, spoke to the cast early in the production process, putting the story in historical context and discussing how some scenes are inspired by — while other scenes depart from — Scripture.
“I can’t speak for all Christians in terms of the old controversies. Several generations have now grown up with this music, and rock music on Christian themes is no longer a shock to most people,” said Miller. “I fell in love with this piece as a kid. I bought ‘the brown album,’ the American release of the original concept album, and memorized it at about age 12. I found the story so moving.”
Rock music on Christian themes is no longer a shock.
—Karen Coe Miller
For her, making that story more accessible to a contemporary audience is one of the production’s strengths.
“The formal language of the Bible can often mute the moments of joy, sadness, anguish and anger that are part of this story,” she said. “Through the lyrics and music of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ these moments are magnified and become very real.”
Miller said she’s proud of the students comprising the cast.
“The roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene are double-cast, and they are all wonderful,” she said. “It has been exciting to revisit ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and take a fresh look at the story. I also enjoy sharing my old love with a crowd of talented, young performers!”