Sara Bareilles won’t write you a love song, but she’ll sing you one — even if she doesn’t know how to love him.
The actress, singer, and songwriter gave a repeat performance of her Jesus Christ Superstar Live ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” at a special FYC event for Emmy voters and Television Academy members Monday evening.
The performance came with an extra special treat: a rare chance to see Andrew Lloyd Webber (who composed the song) accompany her. Lloyd Webber explained earlier in the evening that he first met Jesus Christ Superstar Live producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron when Zadan directed him in a one-man show where he played piano and told stories, but that it was the first and last time he appeared onstage because he doesn’t like performing for an audience.
John Legend, who played Jesus in Superstar, and Brandon Victor Dixon, who portrayed Judas, were also on hand, as well as director David Leveaux and numerous other members of the production team, to discuss how they brought the spectacle to live television.
Lloyd Webber told audiences the original concept for Jesus Christ Superstar was inspired by a Bob Dylan lyric that asked, “Did Judas Iscariot have God on his side?” The query prompted Lloyd Webber and collaborator Tim Rice to try to write a musical about Jesus Christ from Judas’ point of view. It began as a concept album, and Lloyd Webber said the rock flavor of the music meant he always preferred productions in an arena space, rather than a traditional Broadway setting.
Legend, who also executive-produced the special, said he signed on almost immediately after being offered the role. “My whole life has been preparing for this because I grew up in church,” he said. “My grandfather was a pastor, my father taught Sunday school, my mother was a choir director, my grandmother played the church organ. I have at least five preachers in my family, from uncles to cousins. I’ve been hearing about Jesus my entire life.” For Legend, the challenge was re-examining Christ from what he called Lloyd Webber’s “bold” and perhaps “controversial” imagining, which allowed him to consider the religious figure as a man and “what kind of emotions a real human being might feel in those situations.”
Bareilles said that more than anything, the production felt like being “called up to the big leagues.” She added that she had “almost exclusively” listened to Lloyd Webber musicals while growing up. “So meeting him for the first time and having him come to a rehearsal, I was so nervous. My voice was shaking. I was all over the place,” she recalled. Lloyd Webber interjected with a joke that he “almost exclusively” listens to Bareilles’ music.
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The “for your consideration” event was also a chance to delve deeper into some of the creative decisions, most notably the now-iconic rendering of the crucifixion and ascension at the production’s conclusion that had critics and social media raving.
Leveaux said the decision to include a moment of ascension (something not included in the original production) was made early on, with production designer Jason Ardizzone-West. After getting reassurance from Legend that he was fine with being lifted 35 feet into the air on a cross, the team got to work designing the technical aspects of the moment.
“One of my issues with the piece is there is no resurrection scene, but actually I always felt Superstar ended with awe,” said Leveaux. “It doesn’t matter, you don’t need to be a Christian to feel that. So that’s why we never took him down from the cross. … It became something for me that I hoped would leave people more with a feeling of inspiration, as opposed to death.”
As producers, Legend, Rice, and Lloyd Webber are eligible for Emmy nominations. If they were to win, all three would achieve EGOT status — the rare feat of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Only 18 people have ever done it, including the likes of Rita Moreno and Barbra Streisand.
For Lloyd Webber, though, the live production had an even deeper meaning: the perfect realization of a concept he devised in his early 20s, when his career was still on the rise. “I must’ve seen over 300 performances over the years, but what was absolutely thrilling about this for me was it was really, really live. It brought the whole thing back to the energy I always hoped it would be,” he said. “For me, it was kind of like Superstar as I had always hoped it would be.”
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