Thursday, April 28, 2011

Superstar Thoughts

Ok, as promised on facebookhere are some of my more detailed thoughts on Jesus Christ Superstar, performed Easter weekend at the Civic Center in Syracuse by the Salt City Center for the Performing Arts. (You can read all my past Superstar posts here

It doesn't make much sense, I dont think, to review a production that is already over, so these are just some thoughts. I have seen Superstar so many times that I dont watch it in the same way anymore. Sometimes I wish I could have the experience of seeing it on stage for the first time again - for that open, fresh experience. But I enjoy it now for the little things I see each time that are new. This year, I treated myself by vigilantly waiting for tickets to o on sale, actually setting aside money in advance this year, and getting box seats! It was so much fun to be so close to the stage, actually able to look down into the pit and watch the musicians, and see all the action on stage, the facial expressions, even watch the children lining up in the wings with their palm branches, ready to sing Hosanna. 

Random Reflections: 

* Nowadays, watching Salt City's production of Superstar is like watching people I know grow up, even though I have personally met very few of the cast members. I like watching some people move from random villager, to leper with one line, to priest with several little solos over the years. Or seeing multi-generations of family participating. 

* I feel like the Civic Center is just too big a space for this production. Obviously, Superstar can fill the house for two nights, but I would rather see the production move back to a smaller space and do a longer run. What about the New Times Theatre, where other Salt City productions have been taking place? Possibly this has already been considered and rejected. But I think this would be a good move: 

  • Since moving to the Civic Center, the choir gets totally lost. The sound system doesn't work for them, and there are times, with 40 cast members or so on stage, even sitting in my box seat practically on top of the stage, that I cant hear the choir. I know they're singing - I can see their mouths moving! But I can really barely hear them. Even more problematic are times when the choir is off stage singing. 
  • The smaller theatre, with multiple entrance points to the stage, allowed for a level of interactivity with the audience. I remember effective stage exits by an angry Judas, running down the center aisle, or the chorus entering from multiple points for Whats the Buzz. Brings the audience right into the action. Makes the crucifixion scene more powerful. 
  • longer run would make the show more available to the audience. After all, right now, the show only goes up Friday and Saturday of Holy Week, kind of a busy time for church folk! We used to take our youth group every year when I was in junior high - I bet many church groups would come if they had different time opportunities to do so.   

* Costumes: Really liked Mary Magdalene's  costume this year. Very pretty. Also Jesus, Pilate, excellent costumes. Actually, even a lot of choir costumes seemed updated. Maybe I could just see them better up close. But they looked new, and I liked all the browns better than pastels. Footwear is my pet peeve. Sandals with Velcro? I know it is picky, but I find it distracting. Also: Judas in white loafers for Superstar? huh? 

* This year saw long-time Jesus Bob Brown transition into the role of Pontius Pilate. This was an excellent move. Bob was perfect as Pilate. Probably the best I have seen Pilate at Salt City, with no insult meant to past performers. This was a Pilate with authority and power. Bobs voice was perfect for the part, and I really felt he was channeling Barry Dennen, which I definitely mean as a compliment. 

* Improving every year in his role: Bill Ali. 

* I miss the disco ball. 

* Choreography (Tara Huss Davis) and dancing this year looked really good. Strong in the Overture, Simon Zealotes, Herods Song, Superstar. Very good. 

* I was most worried, naturally, about Henry Wilson as Jesus rather than Judas. He was the first person I ever saw perform the role live, and it was hard for me to imagine him in any other role, especially Jesus. Wilson played Judas as kind of a bad-ass, and never having seen him act in anything else, I wasn't sure how we would pull off Jesus. I thought he did a really, really excellent job. Jesus - well, I have seen some bad acting in various productions I've seen. A least favorite wimpy Jesus, for example, who stood with shoulders hunched, and made you not really want to root for him. And then, there are different interpretations of Jesus too - Ted Neeley on stage these days plays Jesus differently than he did in film. His experience brings a kind of gravitas to the role - a spirituality that emphasizes Jesus' divine nature. Wilson communicated a clear authority as Jesus, a warmth I wasn't anticipating, and still, one of the most beautiful voices, while managing to put the rock into it that makes Superstar the rock opera it is. Very pleased. The only problem of course, is that if Wilson is Jesus, he cant be Judas too, and I did miss him in that role. Jason Klug could grow into the role if he plays a little more bad-ass and a little less scared-guy. 

All in all, a really wonderful evening. Some day, some day, I will figure out how to audition myself. Maybe tell my congregation all Holy Week services are via attending the show? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lectionary Notes for Easter Sunday

Readings for Easter Sunday, 4/24/11:
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18, or Matthew 28:1-10

Acts 10:34-43:
  • Peter is speaking to Cornelius and his friends and relatives in Caesarea. Cornelius had been visited by a messenger from God telling him to invite Peter to his home and here him speak.
  • "God shows no partiality". Do we get that? Believe it? Preach it? Live and practice it?
  • "preaching peace by Jesus Christ" Ah, the gospel message is a message of peace. Too much of our Christian history works to counter that claim. We struggle on!
  • A mini-sermon, all the facts needed to share the good news packed into one little blurb - this is Peter's quick pitch, at the opportunity he's been given.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24:
  • Note that this is virtually the same selection from Psalms as on Palm Sunday, with slightly different verses. Included in Easter's reading, but not in Palm Sunday's: "the Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death." Hm. I don't like to think about God punishing us. But the verse's significance on Easter is powerful. The cup was not taken from Jesus - he drank it. And yet, he lives.
  • Even still, it's hard to focus on any scripture passage on Easter Sunday other than the gospel lesson of the Resurrection, isn't it?
1 Corinthians 15:19-26:
  • "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." A striking statement. I'm not sure how to react - I guess I don't exactly share Paul's perspective. I think we're so wrapped up in thinking about what awaits us after this earthly life, that we forget what Christ means for us right now, on earth. My hope for Christ in this life is powerful stuff!
  • "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." I'm a big fan of John Cobb and process theology. I remember reading that for process theologians, some could not get over the "ultimate evil of personal death." Conceptions of afterlife are tricky things. How can death be destroyed for you? When I was younger, I used to ask my pastor/mentor, Rev. Bruce Webster, if heaven wouldn't be a boring place. He, a math major in college, could draw some sort of graph to show it would be ok!
John 20:1-18:
  • I have to admit, as a woman, I get a kick out of the way the men behave here, versus the way Mary Magdalene acts. The men run there, almost competitively, after hearing Mary's report, and then they return home, apparently not too impressed or curious to figure out what's going on. It's Mary who is there to begin with to care for the tomb, Mary who sheds tears for Jesus, Mary who remains at the tomb long enough to encounter the risen Christ, Mary who is the first to spread the good news. You go girl!
  • "Rabbouni!" What would you say if you had a change to come face to face with a lost loved one again?
  • I just can't let loose of the sense of the importance of Mary staying at the tomb. She is honest with her emotions, and holds still, stays in place, soaks it in. She gets to see Jesus, the fruits of her devotion. Don't hurry through Easter, but rest at the empty tomb!
Matthew 28:1-10
  • I do like John's account of the resurrection better: we have Mary's solo journey to the tomb, which seems so precious and personal, and we have her encountering Jesus himself, not God's messengers
  • Still, note in Matthew that it is the women who are first on the scene of the resurrection.
  • Matthew describes an earthquake and an angel of the Lord descending in the women's presence, very dramatic. But less intimate, again, in my mind. Less special for all its drama.
  • No Peter and the beloved in a foot-race to the tomb in this account either! The men don't make it to the resurrection site at all.

Lectionary Notes for Good Friday

Readings for Good Friday, 4/22/11:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
  • Here Isaiah describes the suffering servant, and no surprise, we easily see Jesus reflected in this image. Isaiah seems to focus on the theme of how this servant will be what no one is looking for, but what everyone will give attention to when revealed.
  • "by a perversion of justice he was taken away." This sentence particularly strikes - if we apply this to Jesus, we read that it is an act of injustice that takes Jesus away to death. Do we remember to think of it that way? We get so caught up in his sacrifice, in God's plan laid out, that I think we forget that what happened to Jesus, even if it worked for our good, was wrong!
  • "It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain." Eek! I hope not. I'm not sure that this is ever God's will, exactly, or that way that God would hope and desire for things to turn out. I think God works through human deeds of pain and hurt, but I hope God doesn't will them on us. 
Psalm 22:
  • "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These words, which open the Psalm, are found on Jesus' lips on the cross. Some say he was reciting the Psalm, to comfort others. People don't like to think about Jesus feeling forsaken by God. But I think it is ok to believe Jesus felt alone in that moment - because despite his feelings, he had faith enough to follow through with what he believed was God's call for him.
  • Surely, we've all felt forsaken by God sometimes. Alone. Finding "no rest" as the Psalmist describes. The scene the Psalmist describes is one of fear and desperation to feel God's presence. Have you experienced this? When? How? Did you find God present there?
Hebrews 10:16-25:
  • These first two verses are more or less quoted from Jeremiah 31:33-34. Notice, though, that the author of Hebrews has the laws in our hearts but also written on our minds. I like the imagery.
  • "let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" - Another good verse. We often provoke people around us, but usually when we do so, it is not in a good way! Here, we're encouraged to provoke each other in a positive way, a way that inspires serving God. Good advice!
John 18:1-19:42:
  • from John we get part of the Passion from Palm/Passion Sunday, only from John's perspective instead of Matthew. Double check for what is different in each text. As with that text from Matthew, I find this one hard to comment on - it's such a story, it is so big, literally and theologically.
  • This text has several pieces, or vignettes. Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. Peter denying Jesus. Jesus on trial before Pilate. Jesus beaten. Jesus crucified. And an "epilogue" of sorts. Any part could be an area of specific focus, though 'time' wise, Good Friday's focus is the crucifixion.
  • To me, what jumps out as full of possibilities is Pilate's question: "what is truth?" John does not record Jesus giving an answer. How do you think he would have answered? What is your answer?

Lectionary Notes for Maundy Thursday

Readings for Maundy Thursday, 4/21/11:
Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1-12, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10), 11-14
  • God describes to Moses and Aaron the Passover, which is the festival that centers Jesus' meal with his disciples as we celebrate Maundy Thursday.
  • "this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly" Ready to go. Ready to move. Prepared. Imagine if this was always the way we were, in terms of readiness to respond to God's call.
  • The Passover is a hard one to stomach (no pun intended.) It is hard to imagine a plague of killing firstborns all through the land, isn't it? But it is a festival, a "remembrance" that becomes so crucial in the identity of Judaism, and even in the events that shape Christ's last days. Death, blood, lamb, sacrifice. The ways the symbolism of the Old Testament events and New Testament events overlap and tie in here is important.
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19:
  • "I love the Lord, because he had heard my voice." I wish I knew Hebrew - I'm curious about the "because" word here. Do we love people "because" of something? Or does our love, even for God, go deeper and beyond a "because."
  • "I will pay my vows to the Lord" This phrase is repeated in this Psalm. It seems the Psalmist feels he must pay God back for hearing his voice, his supplications. Does God need to be paid back? Want to be paid back? I don't think God wants to feel "owed" as much as loved.
  • "loosed my bonds" - what has you bound up?
1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
  • Remember that Corinthians is written before the gospels are written, so Paul's account here is actually an earlier account of the "Last Supper" than we find in the gospels.
  • "as often as you drink it" - I think Jesus had in mind even more than our communion ritual, though I find that meaningful. "As often as you drink it" says to me that we are to remember and be guided by Christ as frequently as our daily task of eating: all the time.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35:
  • "having loved his own who were in the world, he love them to the end." I like this editorial sentence of John's. He seems to emphasize the close bond shared by Jesus and his disciples. How painful these last days must have been for him, knowing that even his closest friends would not seem him through his ordeal.
  • "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas" Poor Judas. I've mentioned before my Jesus Christ Superstar inspired love of Judas. I always wish I could get inside his head. What would make you betray Jesus?
  • "you also ought to wash one another's feet." Serving one another. I've tried, in a small group, to do a foot-washing before. I find people pretty resistant: either embarrassed to have someone touching their feet, or worried about hygiene, clean towels, clean water, etc. Guess we're not willing to get Jesus' point anymore.
  • "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." If this is true, how many of us can be identified as disciples by our actions? Not as many as should be...