Jesus returns… to Groningen?

The Second Coming of Christ is upon us! 

So claim the newly-placed billboards around the centre of Groningen, advertising the return of the historic award-winning rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar here to the north of the Netherlands. It tells a story of hope, about a group of people who want to change the world. 

Originally a concept album by English lyricist Tim Rice, the music gained widespread popularity following its release, allowing for its on-stage Broadway debut in 1971. The show quickly became popular, in part attributed to the large amounts of unauthorised productions taking place, with 21 pirate versions in the US being shut down in 1971 alone. Every decade since then has seen various productions across the European and North American continents, making it one of the most-performed musicals ever created. This particular production will be performed for the first time in Groningen, the previous Dutch production having back premièred in 2015.

The show essentially retells certain parts of the New Testament, focusing in large part on the relations amongst Jesus and his twelve apostles. It is generally faithful to the narrative of the biblical text, yet presents it in a manner that is modern and refreshing, complete with rock songs, jokes and slang. In a first for artistic interpretations of the Passion, it features heavily from the perspective of Judas, who frequently clashes with Jesus over the manner in which he commands his disciples. 

Creator Tim Rice has notably, and not uncontroversially, claimed that the show sees Jesus not as the son of God, just a man born at the right place at the right time. This sentiment runs omnipresently throughout the show, as it portrays Jesus as a charismatic religious leader, yet also a deeply flawed character in his own right, who can even seem to abandon his virtuous morality. He suffers identity-crises as he remains doubtful of his supposed divinity, behaving raucous at times and drunk at others, even indulging in frivolous luxury at a particular time of great suffering for the poor. In the grand finale that is his crucifixion, Jesus dies in defeat and mental turmoil, sealing his portrayal as a mere mortal man who is caught up in the political and social mess that is 1st-century Judea. 

What’s more, the infamous Judas Iscariot, known for betraying Jesus in a twist of fate, comes across as a voice of reason throughout the show’s plot, as he stands up to Jesus’ shortcomings, inciting decades of criticism from Christian groups worldwide. The Faith Free Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina, describes the show as nothing less than “a conscious blasphemy against Christ”, and “Satan’s evil misrepresentation of the Son of God”, and it has even previously been banned in South Africa and Hungary. More progressive christian branches, however, have praised the show for making Jesus’ narrative more understandable and palatable to young people through its use of contemporary attitudes and themes and so, today, amateur productions can be found in church communities around the world. In short, opinions are divided, yet there is no doubt that upon its release, it certainly pushed the boundary of how religion can be dealt with in the arts, and in culture as a whole. 

Jesus Christ Superstar will be performed at our very own Martiniplaza Theatre, running daily from May 29th to June 2nd. Provocative and raw, yet somehow also endearing, the show is bound to be nothing short of a spectacle, as we are sucked into the world of Rice’s time-tested masterpiece, right here in Groningen. I wouldn’t miss it, and look forward to seeing the biblical tragedy in person, paired with a live orchestra that does the music justice. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.