Judas Iscariot

Male. Rock/Soul Tenor. Arguably the antagonist of the show. One of the twelve apostles of Jesus; is concerned for the poor and the consequences of Jesus’ fame.

Age range: 18-40
Vocal range: D3–E♭5, optional E5
Voice type: “an agile and sensitive voice with access to extremely high registers across a full dynamic range […] someone who can tell a story through a melody, with exquisite diction and intonation” (50th)
Possible musical influences: “stylistically drawing a great deal from soul music […] Useful reference points would be Stevie Wonder/Murray Head” (50th)

Relevant Insights

“We made him a type of Everyman. Judas did not think of himself as a traitor. He did what he did, not because he was evil, but because he was intelligent. He could see Christ becoming something he considered harmful to the Jews. Judas felt that they had been persecuted enough. As far as what Christ was saying, general principles of how human beings should live together – Judas approved of this. What Judas was worried about was that as Christ got bigger and bigger and more popular, people began switching their attention from what Christ was saying to Christ himself. They were saying that Jesus is God, here is the new Messiah, and Judas was terrified because, a.) he didn’t agree with it – he thought Christ was getting out of control and it was affecting Him, and b.) Judas reckoned that if the movement got too big and people began worshipping Christ as a god, the Romans who were occupying Israel would come down and clobber them.”

– Tim Rice

“I feel that Judas had nothing but good intentions but didn’t understand the ramifications of his actions. It’s a complete struggle within himself and beyond himself throughout the show.”

– Corwyn Hodge (Judas, Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, 2004)

“…I’d always gone along with this German theologian called Gerhard Kittel, and his view that Judas and Jesus both had a job — or a role — to fulfill and Judas couldn’t handle the responsibility of what he had to do and never came to terms with it. It’s almost like Christ saying to him, ‘I’ve got the easy part, all I have to do is die.’ And that’s really what I was trying to get over with that…”

– Drew Sarich (frequent Jesus/Judas performer)

“I don’t believe the hype of some of the books of the New Testament that paint Judas as Satan’s spawn or something. I’ve read all of the ‘lost Gospels’ that I could get my hands on, including the Gospel According to Judas. Granted, all these are not firsthand accounts, as they have been carbon-dated for proof, but throughout the three hundred years after Christ’s death, many other pictures of why Judas betrayed Christ rose to the surface. Some say Jesus told him to do it, as it was ‘God’s will,’ a divine prophecy… a few of the lost gospels say that. One thing I know for sure… in the gospel according to Sir ALW and Tim Rice, he didn’t do it for the money. So, I investigated all other reasons to justify his actions… […] Judas had only the very best of intentions.”

– Josh Young (Judas, Broadway, 2012)

Further Analysis

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber began creating JCS, they contemplated writing a musical about Judas, in which Jesus was only a minor character. Though that’s not exactly what they ended up with, Judas still emerged as the protagonist, or at least the central dramatic character, but in any event, more important and complex than Jesus. The show’s title is Judas’ own words, Judas’ point of view, and Judas’ criticism of Jesus. The show opens with Judas’ warnings of disaster (in “Heaven on Their Minds”) and ends with Judas’ I-Told-You-So song, “Superstar.” This is Judas’ story, the tale of an honest, concerned, rational man who has been thrust into an irrational, transcendental situation, and it’s this factor that will lead to his downfall, not (as he discovers) that he had any choice in the matter, to begin with.

Let’s talk about “Heaven on Their Minds” for a second. It tells you (if you pay close attention) everything you need to know about Judas and the show’s overall stance since we view nearly everything from his viewpoint. Few other musicals use their first song so well. It’s a true masterpiece of economical, character-driven exposition, accomplishing in roughly three minutes what would take anywhere from one to three conventional “book” scenes to establish. Right off the bat, we meet an intense, conflicted, impatient fellow who describes his relationship with Jesus and his doubts about Jesus’ approach as his ministry continues to grow. He sounds bright, discerning, and passionate. His concerns seem legitimate. He’s not arguing with the idealistic lessons about love, peace, and brotherhood, but he knows that the minute Jesus becomes “too” famous, the authorities will clamp down on him. And in an occupied nation under the tyranny of Rome, “clamping down” means a path straight to the gallows.

It’s also clear that he does not believe Jesus is the Son of God. Remember, at that time, dozens of men constantly claimed to be the Messiah, each with devout followers who believed utterly in their teacher. Judas, concerned that fame is getting in the way of the message of social justice, thinks this movement has accidentally evolved into one of those. Moreover, he believes this turn of events is contrary to Jesus’ intentions, though whether that’s true becomes less clear throughout the show, leading him to become increasingly disillusioned and precipitating all that results from his decision to turn Jesus over to the authorities.

Once you have all of that down, you’re ready for everything else that playing Judas throws at you. In addition to the pretty detailed description above that encompasses most of what Judas is like throughout the show, I would add the words “fiery,” which shows in his disagreements with Jesus, and “a real control freak,” as evidenced in part by “Strange Thing, Mystifying.”

That last one might be too harsh, so let me put it another way. The dichotomy between Judas and Jesus is a fascinating one. Judas is practical, concerned with image, message, public opinion, money, trying to see the obstacles ahead, etc. Jesus is utterly single-minded, concerned only with the teaching. That central relationship shows us a mammoth tug-of-war between pragmatism, represented by Judas, and ideas, represented by Jesus. Each of them is missing what the other has. Judas finds himself constantly frustrated and confused by Jesus’ refusal to look at the practical side of their situation, as verbalized in “Heaven on Their Minds,” the fragment of “Superstar” at the end of the Last Supper, and the title song itself. To go with that cult of personality metaphor for a second and tap into the parallels to modern celebrity, Judas acts as a kind of business agent and PR man, concerned over the political message they’re sending, the perceived inconsistencies in Jesus’ teachings, and the money wasted on Mary’s ointments and oils. He believes in Jesus’ philosophy and his ability to lead, not his methods and choices.

Ted Neeley (Jesus) and Carl Anderson (Judas) share a heart-rending moment (“A.D.” [North American national] tour, 1992-97)

There’s another wrinkle… how significant Mary’s involvement with Jesus is in the discord between him and Judas. Pay attention to what Jesus says when he rebuffs Judas in “Mystifying” (emphasis mine): “Leave her, leave her, she’s with me now.” There are a few ways to interpret this, and at least two of them point to what Tim Rice once claimed is at the heart of JCS: the triangle between Jesus, Judas, and Mary.

A brief digression to offer a quick refresher on who Mary is, which will be explored in more depth when we get to her: there’s some biblical evidence to suggest the actual Mary Magdalene may have had money (and therefore unprecedented independence) and may have financed much of the movement. And her established, even favored, place in Jesus’ circle leaves open the possibility she’d been around for a while.

Bearing this in mind, one can follow three possible paths of interpretation with that lyric. One is a bland surface reading, but two are spicier, even romantic: a break-up between either Mary and Judas or Judas and Jesus.

  • Door Number One: the most basic option, where Jesus merely means that, like it or lump it, he likes having her around, and besides, nobody’s perfect, so leave her alone.
  • Door Number Two: the straight option, where it almost sounds like Mary had been with Judas before. Maybe it was a brief interlude, as can happen when two people are thrust together in close quarters with a common cause for an extended period, and it ended badly. The Bible records that Judas, owing to his closeness to Christ, held the purse strings for the group but had a bad habit of lifting funds for personal use; perhaps, echoing the 1927 silent film The King of Kings, Mary was his go-to “stress relief,” but Judas slipped up and brought her around Mr. Charisma, and the rest was history.
  • Door Number Three: the queer option, where Jesus had been with Judas before, is now with Mary, and calls Judas out on his jealousy and tells him to back off. Two significant productions – the 2000 film and the 2012 Broadway revival – arguably played Door Number Three. The 2000 film, in particular, was so filled with what was readily interpreted as a homoerotic subtext that the JCS fan community I was part of at the time, which mainly consisted of edgelord male tweens and teens, joked about everything from Jesus seeming to pick Judas up in a back alley at the start, to all the instances of Jesus and the apostles getting “handsy” with each other, to what was dubbed “Brokeback Gethsemane.” While the 2012 revival took it in more of an unrequited direction, it came to the same conclusion. Many of the Swedish revivals, the 2014 Swedish arena tour (or, frankly, any featuring Ola Salo as Jesus) in particular, have also leaned heavily towards this angle. In addition, this is no Johnny-come-lately interpretation. My high school English teacher, a child when the album was released, told me that, based on the “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” section of “Judas’ Death,” she’d always interpreted Judas as being gay, in love with Jesus, and consequently unable to cope with inadvertently causing his demise. The previously mentioned Avondale Theatre Company production picked up on Door Number Three as well and found the possible subtext of Judas competing with Mary for Jesus’ love and attention so touchy that they decided to sidestep both homophobic reactions and queerbaiting accusations by a) casting a cis woman as Judas, and b) creating a setting so alien from the Bible that it took people’s minds off of equating the behavior they saw with anyone depicted in a stained glass window, allowing this subtext to be more directly addressed.

As a queer man myself, while I understand the appeal of Door Number Three (and have even “shipped” the characters depending on the production), I think it’s much less of a leap to assume, given the era in which it was written, that the intended dynamic was along the lines of Doors One or Two. But the 21st century has proven there is more than enough room for speculation and other points of view, especially for a performer trying to throw all their weight into this role and looking for layers to their motivation. Interpret it however you like, as long as you let your director (and your fellow cast members) in on it.

As if that level of friendship (and perhaps more) isn’t complicated enough, depending on whether or not your production uses the Tormentors (about whom I’ll write more soon) and how it does so, it is also possible to view Judas as impacted by mental illness. Both the stage directions of the early script linked in “Reading” and the blocking of subsequent productions which centered the Tormentors’ impact on Judas can be interpreted to suggest that Judas is experiencing auditory hallucinations, already suicidal, or both, all factors which might considerably inform his actions towards both Jesus and himself. If the Tormentors (or Tormentor-adjacent figures) play a role in your production, this notion is food for thought.

I’ll get more into individual motivations in each scene when we’re going song by song (and this goes for all the characters), but this should be a good start for an overall glimpse of what makes Judas tick.

My Two Cents

Helpful Hints