Before I break down Jesus Christ Superstar, you need to do some homework, especially if you’re unfamiliar.
Besides, many directors encourage their cast to research the piece they’re performing during the first few days of rehearsal. This can mean anything from going back to the source material for more about characterization and historical detail, making a more general investigation into the period in which the story is set, or exploring relevant pieces of background info. This is useful in several ways; among them, it helps inform the cast about the show, it forces them to immerse themselves in the project from the start, and once they begin to feel that they have something to contribute, they’ll usually start to get more involved with the piece. Sometimes, this will involve group activities not particularly limited to a chat. There’s more than one way to help familiarize actors with their show’s subject.
In my opinion (and those of the fans I polled), the following books, articles, recordings, and film versions best provide context, food for thought, and a solid introduction to anyone interested in staging or further exploring the show. In addition to “JCS 101” material, there will also be recommended reading and viewing for both cast and creatives outside the scope of JCS itself.
- Listening consists of various audio recordings of the show that the hoi polloi deemed exemplary in one form or another. The listed recordings appear because they were consistently mentioned across Facebook, Reddit, and TikTok polls. All are listed in chronological order by release. Streaming links are to Spotify or YouTube where available; generally, if they’re available on one of those, they’re on other streaming services too, except for the 1976 California Youth Theatre cast.
- Reading concerns itself with research material of the literary variety in hopes of offering a little more understanding about JCS itself, the show’s behind-the-scenes history, and the times from which it came.
- Sometimes, a show is big enough that it’s frequently produced, professionally or otherwise. Maybe it’s even been made into a movie. JCS is unusually blessed in that several filmed versions (whether official releases or widely circulated pro-shots) are available for an intrepid creative team to research. Viewing is just a representative sampling of what’s out there. All links are to purchase, rent, or view where available.
- Parodies, by definition, are comedic commentaries about a work that involve its imitation. You may wonder what place parodies could hold in helping to understand JCS. Truthfully, they have little, if anything, to do with that; they’re crucial because they allow us to criticize and question things about it without being malicious by using comedy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if you can’t laugh with (not at) what you love, then you might have more in common with the people who mindlessly protest the piece than you think. Besides, similar books about Star Trek and Star Wars have had no problem devoting space to affectionate parodies like Galaxy Quest and Spaceballs because it’s something the fans can enjoy. Indeed, many of the choices are much easier to appreciate if one is a fan; maybe the creative team and cast can bond over these parodies during/after the research phase of production.