Earlier this year my husband told me the most brilliant marketing decision in the past hundred years was not including the word rap in publicity for Hamilton. Because the kind of people who buy broadway tickets would eschew anything rap.

“What’s Hamilton?”

“A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton.”

“Rap musical? The Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yes– it’s hugely successful.”

“It sounds ridiculous.”

I didn’t give it another thought until I kept seeing references to the musical and articles about it. Brilliant! A work of genius! Shattering all barriers! Okay, I decided, let me listen.

Before I proceed further let me explain I’m a classical music snob. If it’s not classical, I don’t really consider it music. I can enjoy popular songs and find them interesting, emotionally moving, but music… not really. I guess it’s the difference between the Costco food court and a Michelin rated restaurant. It might taste good, but is it really food in the foodie sense? Plus, I have a distaste for musicals in general. I find them stupid and maudlin, with a handful of exceptions: I love most songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and “I’ll Cover You” from Rent is cute.

As it happens the entire soundtrack for Hamilton is available in spades on youtube. I listened to the show in full and have to admit I was surprised. If you’re going to create a rap musical this is as good as it’s going to get. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda creates an extremely clever, catchy blend of rap, melodic, and traditional musical fodder. But that’s about as far as it went for me: clever. In fact when all was said and done I felt I’d just spent two hours listening to advertisement jingles (beware, like commercial jingles these songs get stuck in your head!). My favorites being “Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Hurricane.”

So I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. $1000 a ticket? Seriously? I mean it’s a cute show but not the second coming. Though if I recall correctly, there was hysteria over Rent, which I also found lame. I think Steven Sondheim is kind of lame too (although my girls love, LOVE Into the Woods).

I would like to see this one day, as I’m curious how exactly it’s staged. There are paltry live clips anywhere that I can find, but instead of taking the ferry I’ll wait until it’s on PBS. And if Mr. Miranda is out there taking requests, I’d love to see a rap musical version of Vikings. Now that I might pay good money to see.


JCS: Live Arena Tour

I requested the dvd of Jesus Christ Superstar Live Arena Tour this week, and it was with great enthusiasm that I sat down to watch it. I’d read a positive review of it here on wordpress and watched some snipets on youtube and was impressed– or at least not horrified as I was by the 2000 version. I envisioned having a fun JCS party with my girls, popcorn included, but what materialized was me being harassed by six whiny girls at 30 second intervals over matters ranging from sore braces to orange juice requests while I tried to concentrate on the performance. So it took a few tries, but I did finally manage to watch it beginning to end, and here is my verdict.

Overall it is an excellent production. The staging is phenomenal and the premise of the apostles as Occupy Wall Street activists is inspired. The Pharisees are represented as a cabal of banker or lawyer types who hold their meetings under the Illuminati eyeball. As for the individual performances, Tim Minchin is phenomenal as Judas. I kind of hate to say this, but I think he’s better than Carl Anderson; in part due to his vocal performance which is well on par with Anderson, but more due to the depth of his interpretation of the role. Minchin’s Judas is far more nuanced than Anderson’s one note– though beautifully sung– anger and frustration. Minchin carries it to a whole new level, adding what I interpreted as implied atheism, depression, torment of consciousness, and a “god is dead” attitude against the God-spouting Jesus. This felt powerfully current given the grungy, anarchist lens of the production.

Tim Minchin as Judas

As for the guy playing Jesus (Ben Forster)…. he just wasn’t that great. He has a decent voice but his performance was flat and lifeless. The only song that was even close to good was “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).” His other numbers just felt empty to me. I don’t know if this was intentional, but Jesus is portrayed in Arena Tour as a slightly flaky cult leader, which is a very different interpretation from Ted Neely’s crushingly sad, somber and spiritual approach.

Mary Magdalene (Melanie Chrisholm) is another flat, though adequate performance. I was never crazy about the 1973 Mary Madgalene (Yvonne Elliman) either, though I prefer her interpretation to Chrisholm’s edgier, borderline slutty characterization of the gospel character.

So if you’re with me this far, what you get from Live Arena Tour is a mind-bogglingly good Judas with the rest of the cast being just okay, with exceptions for the relatively small roles of Pilate (Alexander Hanson) and Herod (Chris Moyles). The live band and chorus are both excellent, though I wasn’t impressed by some of the choreography and costumes– especially the angel corsets on Judas’ backup singers. Yuck. They looked like something from a bad tap dance recital.

If you are a JCS fan, this dvd is a must-see and a must-own, even though in my estimation the 1973 production is still the best.

Gethsemane Cover

A phenomenal cover of “Gethsemane” done on what appears to be the Georgian version of American Idol.  Luka Zakariadze was, mind-bogglingly, no more than 19 years old at this performance.  He has perfect pitch, which is not always the case in live performances.

I’d go so far as to say this performance is better than Ted Neely’s.  Too bad Zakariadze can’t be cast in the upcoming remake of JCS.

He That Guardeth Israel

More music.  I don’t know what it is about the 1973 “Jesus Christ Superstar” film that works so well, since the later versions fall flat, but there’s something about the scrawny hippies and stylized 1970s costumes that really pulls it off.  According to the director’s commentary there was a lot of drug use on the set.

The opening, where Jesus chastises his disciples for sleeping, is of course redolent of the psalm (also included in evening prayers, in Judaism) passage, “He that guardeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

This is actually not my favorite song from the musical, but it’s one of the most moving.  I could do without the hooked noses in the art montage, however.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.