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All-female ‘Jesus Christ Famous person’ album bolsters present’s groundbreaking legacy

Vocalists Tamika Lawrence, from left, Isabel Santiago, Pearl Solar, Eden Espinosa, Rebecca Covington Webber, Joanne Javien, Jasmin Raen Walker and Marva Hicks document within the studio for “Jesus Christ Famous person: Highlights From the All-Feminine Studio Solid Recording.” Picture by Kat Hennessey

(RNS) — Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 idea album “Jesus Christ Famous person” — from which the 1971 rock musical was born — delivered one radio hit, with Australian pop artist Helen Reddy channeling Mary Magdalene’s confused emotions about her rabbi in “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.”

However in any other case, the album and the present, with its rock-and-roll rhythms, propulsive power and 12 male apostles, is a guy-heavy affair. In all its stage, movie and TV diversifications over the a long time, males have all the time dominated the musical rating.

Till now: A brand new tackle the album launched Friday (April 29), “Jesus Christ Famous person: Highlights From the All-Feminine Studio Solid Recording,” was created fully by ladies vocalists, engineers and orchestra members, and among the many voices on the tracks are Broadway veterans Cynthia Erivo as Mary Magdalene, Morgan James as Jesus and Shoshana Bean as Judas. Grammy-winner Ledisi sings the position of Simon, and Broadway star Orfeh is Pilate.

“‘Jesus Christ Famous person’ has all the time been a car for breaking boundaries,” mentioned Henry Bial, chair of the theatre and dance division on the College of Kansas. “It was groundbreaking to have Jesus represented bodily on stage. It was groundbreaking to do rock ‘n roll in a Broadway musical. It was initially groundbreaking in its multiracial casting.”

Morgan James records the part of Jesus Christ in the studio for “Jesus Christ Superstar: Highlights From the All-Female Studio Cast Recording." Photo by Kat Hennessey

Morgan James data the a part of Jesus Christ within the studio for “Jesus Christ Famous person: Highlights From the All-Feminine Studio Solid Recording.” Picture by Kat Hennessey

James, the power behind the brand new venture, grew up listening to the “Jesus Christ Famous person” rating however lamented the present’s lack of feminine roles, she informed Faith Information Service. “I believed to myself, I’d love to listen to different individuals I do know sing this unimaginable rating.”

In January of 2017, she gathered a various workforce of feminine performers for a live performance model of the present in New York’s Highline Ballroom. The sold-out occasion happened within the days main as much as the 2017 Girls’s March and was staged towards a backdrop of modern-day photos, together with images of Black Lives Matter protests. “The strain and celebration mingled collectively have been actually palpable,” James mentioned.

The workforce reunited a yr later to document the rating. In honor of the unique 1970 album, the all-female model was recorded in the identical actual keys and tempo. “We actually geeked out on that,” mentioned James. “We needed to totally pay homage. We didn’t need anybody to have the ability to stroll away and say, yeah, it’s high quality, however they modified or took away what I really like from it.”

Authorized crimson tape prevented the group from dropping the album instantly, in order that they launched the music in batches. A five-track EP, “She Is Risen (Vol. 1),” got here out in 2020, adopted by a second EP just a few months later. The ultimate model has 18 tracks, together with “Heaven On Their Minds,” “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” “Gethsemane” and “Famous person.”

The musical has been criticized over its half-century of existence for perceived theological blunders. The BBC banned it at its authentic launch from its radio air, calling it “sacrilegious,” and spiritual teams fumed on the present’s depiction of a deeply human Jesus, a promiscuous Mary Magdalene and, some argued, antisemitic depictions of Jewish leaders.

Marva Hicks sings the part of Mother Mary on the album “Jesus Christ Superstar: Highlights From the All-Female Studio Cast Recording." Photo by Kat Hennessey

Marva Hicks sings the a part of Mom Mary on the album “Jesus Christ Famous person: Highlights From the All-Feminine Studio Solid Recording.” Picture by Kat Hennessey

Rice and Webber informed reporters in 1971 that they aimed to make a compelling present, not a theological remark. Equally, James mentioned this newest reincarnation isn’t a lot a theological assertion as an indication of feminine performers’ capabilities.

“Girls will not be simply female, they usually’re not simply anyone factor. They’re not a monolith, and so bringing all these totally different varieties of ladies, all these ages of ladies, all these ladies from totally different backgrounds, to those roles… they introduced all of the totally different components of femininity which can be missing, frankly, within the Mary Magdalene character,” mentioned James, calling the present’s one named feminine character “one-dimensional.”


RELATED: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’: The controversial musical phenomenon turns 50


“The truth that these ladies have chosen ‘Jesus Christ Famous person’ because the car to show what they’ll do as vocalists, as performers and as engineers helps cement it within the musical theater canon,” mentioned Bial, who added that the album builds on the legacy of ladies performers like Sarah Bernhardt and Eva Le Gallienne who, within the twentieth century, forged themselves in roles like Hamlet or King Lear to spotlight their expertise.

“In actual fact, Bernhardt even performed Judas Iscariot within the 1910 manufacturing referred to as ‘Judas’ by a playwright named John De Kay,” mentioned Bial. “That was much more scandalous than ‘Jesus Christ Famous person.’”

Shoshana Bean data the a part of Judas Iscariot on the album “Jesus Christ Famous person: Highlights From the All-Feminine Studio Solid Recording.” Picture by Kat Hennessey

The all-female “Jesus Christ Famous person” has paved the best way for different feminine performers to tackle its male roles. Earlier this yr, Sandy Redd, an ensemble member within the “Jesus Christ Famous person” 50th Anniversary tour, stepped up to play Judas in a variety of reveals.

James, who didn’t develop up non secular, identified that there are nonetheless important parallels between the theater world and lots of church buildings, the place ladies’s roles are sometimes diminished.

“There’s all the time males main the church, after which main theater, main all these features. What if the ladies have been main?” requested James. “I actually hope that for a brand new era of musical theatre, (of) ladies and ladies coming, they’ll say, ‘I see myself in so many extra roles now.’”


RELATED: An actress playing Judas? Some theaters say yes


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