by Lynn on December 27, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Can we possibly go a full week without another article about the Broadway-bound production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR? Ever since JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR opened this summer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the hype has been intense — more intense than for any other show in my long memory of Stratford productions. Every utterance, every musing, every unfounded rumour has been slavishly reported in the local press.

“This should go to Broadway!” “Andrew Lloyd Webber wants to see the show.” “Andrew Lloyd Webber is coming to see the show!” “ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER SAW THE SHOW AND HE LOVED IT!!!” (photo: beaming Andrew Lloyd Webber with cast)

Is it going to Broadway? It should go to Broadway. We really want to go to Broadway but we should be cautious. YES WE ARE GOING TO BROADWAY, but we have to find a theatre. YES WE FOUND A THEATRE. Yippee. OH, there’s a cancellation (a miracle??) in the crowded season at La Jolla Playhouse. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR will play in that miraculously available slot at La Jolla first and then go to Broadway. Brent Carver isn’t going to La Jolla to play Pontius Pilate because of on-going throat problems. Will he be in the show on Broadway? The hope is he plays Broadway in the show. No, Brent Carver is not playing Broadway and he won’t comment on why.

On Dec. 22 Playbill-on-line ( reported that Tom Hewitt would play Pontius Pilate and Jeremy Kushnier would play James the Lesser. According to the Toronto Star (, “the official announcement of the casting …revealed that American Tom Hewitt…will be stepping into the role of Pontius Pilate which (Brent) Carver vacated after the end of the Stratford run.”

On December 23 Playbill-on-line reported that “Jeremy Kushnier has returned to the role of Pontius Pilate in the Broadway-bound production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR…at the La Jolla Playhouse.”

WOO-HOO. That subset of readers who attend slavishly to such minutiae of who’s playing what, and what they played previously, must be very confused.

Enough already. With all this clamour and hyper-attention over a big flashy musical, you would think it was the second coming of some religious person. It isn’t. Yes, the Stratford production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR earned almost unanimous rave reviews. A few other shows did equally well, but didn’t sell out like…SUPERSTAR. The difference? The tsunami of hype.

This is the triumph of hype over substance. When you googled almost any fragment related to theatre in 2011, an advertisement for the Stratford production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR popped up. On the Playbill-on-line website; on the New York Times website. As I mentioned earlier, the local media was more than willing to ‘report’ every utterance or musing related to the show, no matter how insubstantial.

The decision of Brent Carver not to go to La Jolla and Broadway shouldn’t surprise anyone. Carver had persistent throat problems in Stratford. He is quixotic and idiosyncratic. He’s played Broadway twice before in starring roles. An artist of his stature doesn’t leave the comforts of house and home to go to Broadway for a minor part (essentially, two good scenes) when there are health issues on the agenda and – very probably – many other irons in the fire.

Neither hype nor glowing reviews are a guarantee for Broadway success. Broadway is packed with glowingly reviewed revivals that will give JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR a run for its money. Most are directed by nuanced and accomplished directors. Most star very accomplished actors and singers.

Success on Broadway is a lottery ticket. Even name composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber see failure more often than success. Webber’s WOMAN IN WHITE closed early in the West End and on Broadway. LOVE NEVER DIES, his sequel to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, did die in August in London after a very bumpy ride. Even the 2000 Broadway revival of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was not a success. Director Des McAnuff was hugely successful with JERSEY BOYS but his recent Broadway productions of THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION and GUYS AND DOLLS closed after four months.

It’s true that hype is a fact of life in professional theatre, a tool publicists use to put bums in seats and in the case of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, also to create the clamour that supports a Broadway run. The hype for WAR HORSE, which begins previews in Toronto in February, is comparable to that for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. In my view the hype is justified for WAR HORSE: it’s an astonishing piece of theatre. I have to say that JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is nowhere near as remarkable. Flashy spectacle, bells and whistles, but short on substance.

Ultimately, it’s rather telling that some Canadians – and Americans – think a run on Broadway is the pinnacle of theatrical life. How sad. How provincial. Let’s put things in perspective, shall we.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Keith December 28, 2011 at 5:21 am

Please give me some good news 🙁 I want to see something that I’ll enjoy, not juet some rehased stuff that will make me falla asleeep.

Give me a reason to hop on a flight to London and enjoy myself!


2 Lynn Slotkin January 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Tall order sailor. Then obviously don’t see this one, although it’s so loud you won’t be able to sleep….There were a few things worth seeing there. But as it’s long gone, try going to KIM’S CONVENIENCE at Soulpepper in January, or WAR HORSE at The Princess of Wales Theatre in February…