Hey, J.C!

I allmänhet skriver jag ju inte på engelska (av lika delar lathet och önskan att reducera gruppen av osannolika men ändå potentiella läsare), men i vissa fall krävs det undantag: exempel är då jag några månader för sent - och utan den minsta risk att faktiskt nå den person till vilket min utläggning är riktad – ger svar på något outrageous uttalande någon gjort i min närhet på ett språk jag inte tillfullo behärskar, eller, då jag tänker skriva om något av stort internationellt intresse, såsom ”nordiska uppsättningar av ikoniska musikaler”. Et voilà.

So, this past weekend, leaving the chaos of my new lodgings as well as that mountain of homework that has suddenly appeared behind, I (& company) got on a bus to Oslo (the driver, by the way, was a delight). After a first look at Karl Johann at night we then made our way to Det Norske Teatret where one of the shows currently playing ('til the end of January) is none other than the one musical which introduced me not only to the wonders of musical theatre, but also the irresistible deliciousness of dark, brooding Frenchmen in tight black shirts and homoerotic (under)currents in theatre/literature/film: that ever-amazing chef d'oeuvre of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice's, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Now, what got me interested in seeing the Oslo version was neither an obsessive-compulsive desire to see every production ever made (I missed not only Jérôme-as-Herod-on-tour-in-Sweden but frickin' Malmö as well) nor a strong affection for (or even understanding of, I'm ashamed to say) the Norwegian language. Quite expectedly, however, I had fallen completely for the commercially always effective trick of putting a famous (and not theatrical, per se) singer in the lead role; in this case, Turbonegro front-man Hank von Helvete (or less poetically, Hans-Erik Dyvik Husby). Admittedly, I know quite little of Hank and his punk-metal-something band, having only seen a few music videos (you could say they're like the bad seed of The Village People & Black Sabbath) on music TV back before the era of youtube began; apparently however, according to what I was able to decipher (I think) of the JCS programme he's been clinically dead due to an overdose (rock 'n' roll!) and was still doing drugs when offered the role of Christ, but cleaned up on the way. Such a great story, no? Still, they had me on the name, and the promise of a hard rock singer doing Gethsemane.

So, the show. As in the (film) production to which I compare all others, JCS 2000, the scenario had been moved to somewhat modern times, albeit a strange and paradoxical version of them, where Hank-Jesus carried about a microphone stand and characters were hit by trains. The character of Jesus appeared to be this sort of underground hero, a tired, ragged and fat rock star dolled up pimp-ish bling-y costume (including a pair of trousers that due to the man's voluminous belly seemed perpetually to threaten to reveal more than would have been desirable for the audience), who had this superb charisma that made people on the outskirts of society follow him as well as great ideals that had perhaps gotten a bit blurred and smudged along the way (one would say his via dolorosa didn't start with the cross). Von Helvete does do a great job at portraying that sort of brokenness, exhaustion that you'd feel after having tried for three years, feels like ninety, and by God, his Gethsemane was heartbreaking, hair-rising, terrifying perfection.


By his side are the apostles, out of which several – eat your heart out, Dan Brown – are female, and some more noteworthy than others. First out is of course Simon, the zealot (in JCS2000 played the starry eyed Christian pretty boy Tony Vincent), who in a stroke of genius has been given a Palestine scarf (what's the correct term in English? the checker ones) and turned in to an archetypical militant hyper-active left-wing person who, probably for several different reasons, doesn't mind breaking a law or two (think AFA).

The next characterization of a member of Jesus' posse that really impressed me was that of Mary Magdalene (played by Charlotte Frogner). For the first time in my experience she was not portrayed as some perfectly confident, above-everything saintlike who – despite profession, life situation etc – seemed never to have been touched the slightest hardship that might have befallen her; more filled with inner peace than you would imagine it possible for a person to be (unless that person happens to be Peter Jöback, that is). It has always seemed unfair to me that in a universe where Jesus is made flawed and human, Judas gets sympathy and we witness the pain of Pilate (no, I don not mean pilates, you modern healthy people!), Mary is often the one who is left in the role of saint and safe haven (you've noticed, I'm sure, how she only gets ballads). There is a point, of course, in reclaiming the goodness of the fallen woman, but I don't see that making her a creature of perfect sweetness (and occasional torment when faced with the threat of romance) is the best way of doing that, today. Apparently someone at the Norwegian Theatre agrees; and so what they give us is a Mary that is not only a prostitute in love but a drug addict, every bit as ragged and damaged as everyone around her. She walks as though moving is difficult, she sings with an utterly haunting voice, and she seems to be constantly partly in some other place. I get the feeling that when Judas insults her she doesn't ignore his criticism so much because she's confident it isn't justified, but because Judas simply doesn't have a place in her limited scope of perception. There's Jesus, and reaching him is about all she can think of doing at one time.

Quite amusingly and at the same time disturbing, however, she at one occasion sang to Jesus that she would “soothe your headache”, which made everyone in my group of Swedes think directly and distractingly of a certain TV commercial for a popular brand of pain-killers.


To mention some of the other characters, before I get to The Main Attraction: Herod I simply don't get. I mean, I understand that he's there for comical relief, but I don't think that's necessary and what's more I find him to be very rarely funny (if I prefer, again, JCS 2000's Rik Mayall, it's because his Herod is relatively subdued). The Norwegian priests were a puzzle to me: Annas had been turned into a woman decked out in some sort of fetish-y horse riding costume with an accordion collar, was an utter parody of the character, and could be seen making out with Caiaphas. It seems to me that there should be something queer about that on a meta level, but as it is, I just don't get the message or the symbolism or whatever (I would very much like to be enlightened by perceptive readers), and thus I end up longing for the serious and actually and understandibly troubled priests of JCS 2000.

Another sudden sex change (they went one way, all MtF, for obvious reasons) was that of Pontius (Pontia?) Pilate. While my heart might be said to belong to a Darth Vader-y looking Fred Johansson (guess where!), I did think that the woman who played Pilate did a good job, and of course, for once hearing a woman perform one of the best and most violent songs in JCS is a pleasure. (Though why, God, why, they let her receive Jesus in her bed the first time was brought around I do not fathom.) And I loved that she actually got to literally wash her hands after having pronounced the final judgment.


Well. We all know who the real hero, the one who gets to rise from the dead to do his encore, in JCS is. The reason for which I've saved him for last is I didn't want to risk resorting to fangirlish squees in the first paragraph. Because, darlings, this is how it is:

Jesus was good, yes – but Judas was perfectly divine.

Frank Kjosås who plays the traitor was a true revelation. Not only is he young and pretty, but he has a voice that... that... leaves you absolutely breathless, and he manages so flawlessly in the dramatic parts to go from what sounds like anguished screaming (in a way that's still kind to the ears) to landing on the next, perfect note. Judas the character, then, looks just like Pete Doherty in a white Fred Perry shirt that in its cleanness proves a clear contrast to the shabbiness of the other characters, and I imagine him being this young well-educated man from a fairly rich family who's so deeply touched by this great, fascinating personality that is Jesus, whose ideas he shares (or comes to share) that actually, as they do in the bible, he leaves home and hearth (I'm not sure all the other apostles here have hearths to leave behind) and follows him into his world. Still he never really melts in, of course, the more so as he is closer to Jesus than any of the other apostles ever are. Maybe because he, more than anyone else, is there purely by choice, by desire to be. It is also as a result of his status as an outsider (among outsiders) that he eventually sees when things go wrong: he might have left his safe home once, but it's still there and he is able to step back and look at and asses the (political, as always) situation from the outside – while Simon's lost himself in the struggle, and Mary knows she'll have no other straws to grasp at if, or maybe when, this one finally breaks.

And then what happens happens and no (I know this is what y'all want to know most of all); the kiss of treason shared by Hank and Frank isn't nearly as long as the seemingly never-ending one of Jérôme Pradon and Glenn Carter. All in all, in Oslo the schism between Jesus & Judas seems much less than a (very serious) lover's quarrel than in Gale Edward's JCS 2000 vision. Funny. And Judas doesn't climb the walls quite as much, but still, he does it some. That's one of the facets of his personality that you just can't ignore.


A few last points then: I have to comment that they had one of the awsomest crosses ever; in general, the stage design was very good and occasionally quite genius. Thanks to this we also thad the delicious final scene where, on an otherwise dark stage with just a big shining cross and Judas with angel's wings on it, a ragged-looking strings orchestra (combining musicians and members of the cast/ensemble) slowly rises up from Herod's two swimming pools, playing the final melancholy melody. Suddenly I felt – although I hadn't thought of it up to then – as though I had spent the last hour and some longing for an orchestra.


In conclusion, while there were naturally certain points about it I didn't like/get, Det Norske Teatret's production of Jesus Christ Superstar (directed by Erik Ulsby) was an utterly pleasurable and very interesting theatrical experience, and well worth the journey.


And yes, in case anyone's wondering, the singing is done in Norwegian.

Postat av: Clemence

Det var riktigt bra. Vänligen fortsätta skriva på engelska!

(thank you, Google Translate ;-))

2010-01-25 @ 15:35:19
Postat av: Lisa

Tack så mycket! :)

(I am quite stunned at how Google actually managed to translate two whole sentences almost correctly...)

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