Remote Controlled: Stars Tell Backstage Tales of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live’
Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety‘s managing editor of TV, Cynthia Littleton, talks with the stars of NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon.
Legend has received praise and plaudits for his work on NBC’s Easter night event telecast that originated from the Brooklyn’s Marcy Avenue Armory. But his most gratifying response came from the creators of the rock opera-turned-musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
“They were like, ‘Our show’s never been this well-reviewed,” Legend says, adding that for him it was “most important that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were happy.”
Legend, Dixon and Bareilles talk about the complicated rehearsal process for the show, with the key players coming in and out of rehearsal at different points while a team of stage pros worked out the staging, music and ensemble elements. The trio credit the work of directors David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski, and exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
“There had to be a certain amount of vision that we didn’t see in that rehearsal,” Legend says. “Once it all came together it made sense. For all those people to come together with a vision and make it happen I thought was really beautiful.”
Bareilles said the atmosphere on the big night in the cavernous Marcy Armory in Brooklyn, outfitted with an audience of more than 1,000, was a charged one.
“The air felt like champagne,” she says. “Walking into the (armory) that morning, everyone was so proud of the work that went into it. It was so buoyant. I kept feeling how much joy there was being poured into this.”
“Superstar” was a breakout moment for Dixon, the “Hamilton” alum who earned raves for his busy role as Judas. There was endless chatter online about Judas’ studded leather wardrobe, particularly a see-through vest that got a lot of attention during his big “Superstar” number. Dixon enjoyed his one-night-only turn as Judas but didn’t keep any of his wardrobe.
“It’s received a lot of love but it’s really not my look,” he says.
Dixon also delighted fans during the cast’s closing bow by flashing the Wakanda salute from the box office smash “Black Panther.” The idea to reference the groundbreaking black superhero movie came to Dixon the night before the live show, after he was given “bedazzled gauntlets” to wear for Judas’ final scene.
“Once I saw them I had a ‘Wonder Woman’ moment,” he says.
You can listen to this week’s podcast here.