I am not religious, but one of my favourite musicals is Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar. No Idea how it became one of my favourites, but it just has been growing me slowly through the years. My first Superstar was the 2000 version with Glen Carter and Jerome Pradon and I still love it in its familiar early 2000s glory.
For me what makes the story that has been written down and changed and transformed throughout the years is the relationship between Jesus and Judas and how close they are in the productions, either as former lovers or as brothers in the same cause. Three guesses which of the two is my favourite to see. Hint! Not the latter!
If I was a Catholic I would feel guilty for basically shipping these two, but I am unashamed in admitting how these two men interact in the musical is my favourite thing to see, especially since the lyrics are so to the point and a bit simple, that the emphasis you put in a certain word or what you do as you say a line changes the musical from one to another, as is with the nature of the stage show. That is why there is no definitive version of this musical because there can’t be one! In the end, you have your own definite version that speaks to you among the many shows that are produced all over the world from local productions to the one you saw on YouTube or TV,
So, discovering the Swedish version of this musical was a bit of revelation. Finland hasn’t done a production of this musical as far as I know, which is a disappointment, because it would be so epic if we combined our love for hard rock aesthetics with this musical. But it seems Sweden got the idea first and I am so happy they filmed it as well. In fact, the musical has been very popular in Sweden for decades since the musical’s conception. It is on YouTube with English subtitles done by very kind people and you should watch it if you are a fan of musicals!
This production is Ola Salo’s (who plays Jesus) baby as he did the translations in 2008 for this musical and starred in it and continues doing so. The translations are very well made, not being a direct translation, but being a good interpretation from the characters point of view. Apparently, the lyrics had minor changes between 2008 and 2012-2014, but I guess that is just to better change the slang of the day, is my guess.
This production takes its aesthetics from the 2012-2013 Göta Lejon theatre production, where Salo also played Jesus. The costumes are mostly black for the main cast, grey for the background and High Priests and of course, a white shirt/robe for Jesus. There are a lot of leather pants, jackets, net shirts and black nail polish around. It’s all a bit dreary and dystopian in a sense, but with the combination of the rock opera songs, it makes it awesome rather than depressing (or just an attempt to be “cool”). The staging is also very well done in terms of the Judas-Jesus-Mary dynamic, it doesn’t even come close to any other version. You will know the scene when you see it.
Peter Johansson is a musical veteran, having done many musicals in England, Germany as well as his home country of Sweden. His voice is strong, a bit on the rough rock side and can still become soft and gentle in a second. I think it is more of a language thing (with Swedish sounding softer to my Finnish ear) but the gentle way he says Jesus’ name is so much more appealing than the usual hard JE-SuS (as it sounds) in English.
– This show is very blatantly Jesus x Judas shipping and it makes it clear right away. So. Much. Gentle. Touching. Also, check on YouTube for the comments and likes done by Peter Johansson. It is a treat!
His Judas is so different from the others I’ve seen, and the reason I made this post in the first place. He is softer, gentler, affectionate and the way he delivers his words to make his Judas very vulnerable as he worries over them all. He simply loves Jesus, no ifs or buts about it and it is just there, no elaboration and I love it. He is a bit jealous of Jesus’ attention to Mary Magdalene, but in the end, it is the fatal interaction between the two of them that drives him to the edge to betray him. It all comes from a familiar feeling of heartbreak and worry for the future, which fits his character. You just want to give him a hug, is what I’m saying. And then there is the large contrast between the Judas of the show and Judas of the Superstar number that feels more like Jesus’ bloody hallucination (which Johansson is enjoying performing the heck out of) and not a Judas who has come from the dead to mock the man he loved, that’s my interpretation anyway.
Ola Salo as Jesus has a beautiful beard and is a bit of a diva (not as much of a Prima Donna as Glen Carter’s in JCS 2000, though) and what can be described in modern internet terms as a Chaotic Bisexual (Salo himself is openly Bi). He lounges in chairs, has flair in his hands and yet his face reveals the deep fear and longing. He is essentially a rock star who wants affection but finds it hard to show it and ask for it from others except for those he feels closest to. He hits the high notes, but in a way that there is a bit holding back for the sake of his vocal cords since he still needs to perform the role many times. His Jesus is also a bit aloof and it took me a few watches to properly appreciate the lonely, guarded and loving character that is his Jesus.
– This was my first introduction to Ola Salo and well, so far only one until JCS. He was in Eurovision 2007 that was in Finland (thank you, Lordi!). The world is so small when it comes to musicals and Eurovision! The song is a bop and very cheery. 2007 was a good song year, but the fact that I still remember the song and the visuals even today just tells how much these sincere “Eurotrash” songs mean to those of us who watch it
With these two talented men at the helm, the chemistry is very loving, gentle and it feels personal when things happen between them. Be it Judas mocking Jesus’ and Mary Magdalene’s Titanic pose or the catalyst scene that pushes Judas to betray his beloved. Judas is the more emotional one, the more human, in a sense. While Jesus is the one who guards his emotions. It is a great contrast in terms of the character that has been done before (like in Broadway version with Josh Young or 1973 film), but this is the one where it was much more noticeable for me to understand the contrast they were making.
Special mention needs to go for this production’s Mary Magdalene played by Gunilla Backman. I just want to say one thing, I am so glad they chose an older woman for the role! Many times I’ve seen women in their mid to late 20s for a woman jaded by life, but it never feels right to me with its ‘the usual not-ingenue woman in love’ feel rather than ‘this woman has had sex, has had her heart broken before and is therefore world-weary and as aloof as Jesus when it comes to love’ and put her in pretty dresses (again, Broadway with Josh Young production I am looking at you). Her conflict feels more real in this, to love this man (who is clearly still a bit in love with Judas) and who has done a lot for her. They feel a bit like partners in crime as they have fun with each other, but there isn’t the same level of intense chemistry as Jesus-Judas have.
Just a few examples of the Jesus and Judas chemistry for very important reasons:
So yeah, watch this amazing production free on YouTube! As long as the language isn’t a barrier then this works for everyone, and the acting is so good that the message is clear by that fact alone. Then of course if you are like me and are trash for men in love with each other kind of content that is more freely shown on stage than on screen then this is for you!
Thank you for reading!