One can hardly imagine American music without its unique rock culture, and it is my true conviction that the American rock culture would have never reached the heights it has reached without its famous Broadway musicals. Although there is an opinion that rock musicals, be it American or of any other culture, actually “rarely rock” (Farley, 2010), there is quite a number of them which do: Hair staged at Broadway in 1967,a 1978 Whiz, Passing Strange, Hedwig and the Angry Inch to name just a few. However, the unsurpassed masterpiece, in my opinion, is Jesus Christ Superstar. Written originally as a rock opera by the British composer, it was not meant to be a musical, let alone the one so enrooted into the American rock culture. Yet, it did. Let us see what makes it so unique, that makes them stage the musical over and over again.
The entire idea is so much grotesque. Previously, none would have ever considered Jesus personage signing rock if it had not been the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the revolutionary lyrics of Tim Rice that made it possible. Notably that neither has done anything equally daring ever since. I mean, Sir Lloyd Webber has already done great without this musical, but one does need to have a brave heart to put a religious plot to rock music, and the composer proved to have one.
Coming back to Broadway musical, there have been numerous productions with various lead singers performing the parts. However, I think these are Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, and Yvonne Elliman, who account for its great success both on stage and on a TV screen. They do sound very rock, the men to a greater extent, the female to a lesser one. However, I think this can be observed due to the very nature of Mary Magdalene’s part, since she was originally meant to sound softer reflecting a typical female’s traits of character. At the same time, the male’s parts sound more aggressive, which, I think, was the composer’s idea. I find it interesting that the “American” Jesus having retained this role for life and being undoubtedly the most recognized performer of this role has not actually had that much of a “rock” past. Well, at least, compared to the “British” original Jesus, Ian Gillan who by the time he was invited to perform the part had been well established as the Deep Purple front man, one of the most renowned rock bands of all times. However, that fact did not prevent the former from starring in other three Broadway rock musicals not including the Superstar – Tommy, Hair and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band on the Road. It is how he reasons it: “I got involved merely because I had the ability to scream high notes, so it was just a great opportunity to be part of it” (Lengel, 2010).
However, it does not matter whether he is a famous rock musician or not as soon as one hears and sees him performing. One of my favorite pieces is his final pre-arrest intercourse with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. The way he performs the part has definitely changed through the years, but be it a 1973 production or a 2006 stage performance, he still rocks. He feels the part. It is not about screaming high notes only. He lets you see that emotional strain, that hesitation of Jesus when his heart and soul are being torn apart by the doubts whether it is worth the sacrifice. The famous high-pitched “Why” is of different flavor, though. In a 1973 production, it is uttered by a young man, and technically it sounds impeccable. In 2006, you can see on stage a much older Jesus who has lost his entire good look but has gained more maturity, which gives the feeling that he is entitled to talk to God more as an equal. Sure, you can keep saying to yourself that the man is still 33. However, you can see at the stage a twice older person, which by no means spoils either the impression or the message. On the contrary, his voice became mature as well, it has got these hoarse notes which it didn’t possess back in 1973, and, to my mind, all these new things add up to the very rock nature of the musical.
Carl Anderson is another phenomenon in American rock music. Having got some jazz/rock experience prior to joining the musical, he has become one of the rockiest characters and singers not only of the Superstar musical, but of the American rock culture in general. I am not biased; this is not only my observation or only my musical preferences. The way he used to perform the part, the strength, the emotionality has always been and will be unsurpassed.
Amazing. Just absolutely amazing. It gave me goose bumps. What a voice. I feel like
crying. I mean, what can you say after hearing a voice like that? How can you describe
it? No review or comment could match that or follow that. It's just incredible. I don't
know what else to type. You are still missed Carl (Kurzpc3x, 2011).
It is one of the comments of those who share my feelings.
Be it Jesus Christ Superstar or any other musical these are its lead singers who account for its longevity on stage. Well, this is the way it should be. However, when we speak about a rock musical, specifically about an American one, the background of the very nation, its history, the conditions that made this musical genre possible to appear add up to its success. Having emerged from the American rock music and being an integral part of it, American rock musical bears all the generic features of the genre yet preserving its unique American flavor with Jesus Christ Superstar being a bright example of it. It had been staged so many times throughout the world even long before the authorized performances started. It has been hosted by the most renowned stages including West End, but it is only after it was staged at Broadway the musical has acquired specifically American rock elements which have added up to its international success and enriched in turn the American rock music.