John Legend and the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Cast on Faith and Musicals


John Legend (Jesus)

Photo

“I had a hard time turning down the role of Jesus Christ,” said John Legend, above in rehearsals for “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Credit
Eric Liebowitz/NBC

On religion I grew up in a Pentecostal Christian family, pretty fundamentalist. My grandfather was my pastor growing up. My dad is a pastor himself and played drums in the church choir, my mother was a choir director, and my grandmother was the church organist. My dad would even play Jesus in some of our passion plays in church. I’m not religious now, I would say, but there’s no way that you are raised in that environment, and also grow up singing that music, without it having an impact on your life.

On musicals My first contact with Andrew Lloyd Webber was in a show choir, “Glee”-style, where we would sing show tunes. And I was in a few actual theater productions — “Big River,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” — when I was in high school. The hardest part now was just learning all the material — I’m so used to performing songs that I wrote for myself.

On Jesus Preparing for this particular role is not just about understanding historical Jesus. A lot of it goes back to thinking about love, and what that means — love for the people who are close to you, but also for mankind, and what that means when it comes to thinking about the sacrifice that he was willing to make.

On ‘Superstar’ The show is an interesting conceit — the idea of thinking about the real human emotions that someone that a lot of people see as a deity may have felt; the idea that he might have felt doubt and fear and resentment toward his father; the idea that he was betrayed by his friends. And, in this show, Andrew and Tim suggest that Judas may have had a point — Judas may have had really good reasons for questioning Jesus’s m.o.

Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas)

Photo

“Judas is far less culpable of the things that he is accused of than people assume,” Brandon Victor Dixon said.

Credit
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

On religion I grew up in the Episcopal Church, went to private school in that church, went to chapel every day. It was a constant through my adolescence. Then we started to shift, to the Unitarian church. Now, spirituality plays a role in my life, but not religion. For me religion is a political construct, and spirituality is a community construct, and there’s a real difference.

On musicals I work in musical theater because people keep writing quality stories in the genre, and I’m really all about investing in a piece that says something about our current time, that is a reflection on who we are today.

On Judas What I’ve learned is that Judas is far less culpable of the things that he is accused of than people assume. Judas feels acutely a perversion of the message, and he also feels the danger of the message getting out of control — of dedication and love and unity and community turning into fanaticism and zealotry.

On ‘Superstar’ I had never seen the show, had never heard the soundtrack — I really had no clue until I got this job. I watched the movie up until Judas was dead — that probably says something about my own personal character — and then we were in rehearsal and I overheard the musical director saying something about ‘You know, after Judas comes back’ — and I was like, ‘What? Judas comes back?’ And I went home and I finished the movie and found out Judas comes back and sings the best song in the entire show. I was floored.

Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene)

Photo

“She’s actually a very powerful figure,” Sara Bareilles said of Mary Magdalene.

Credit
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

On religion I’m definitely someone who has faith and a belief in God and the workings of the universe at large, but I don’t subscribe to a particular doctrine. I grew up Catholic, and I went to Catholic school, so the story of Jesus and the crucifixion are very near and dear to my heart. I still go to Catholic Mass with my parents when I go home. The ritual and the familiarity and the comfort of our church community growing up is something I look back on really fondly now, even though I don’t go to church any more.

On musicals It’s this medium that exists somewhere between feet-on-the-ground and lifting off. It’s sort of elevated reality, where you get to tell really beautiful stories, but everything is slightly surreal, and I really love what unlocks emotionally for people.

On Mary Magdalene She’s actually a very powerful figure, and she is really motivated by her love for Jesus and his message. Historically, she was definitely a disciple and a believer and a champion of his message. She’s got laser focus on her support of Jesus, in my interpretation, and that’s how I’m coming to it, with a pure sense of the ultimate kind of love for someone.

On ‘Superstar’ I rented the film — I was probably 12 or 13 and I was really into a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals at the time, and I was listening to everything I could get my hands on. I remember just being really emotional about the music. What was so avant-garde and so revolutionary about Tim and Andrew’s approach was that they really emphasized the humanity of these figures that have become so mythologized for us over the years. For someone who grew up in the church, as intimate as your relationship to Jesus can be, it’s really interesting and nuanced to look at him as a human and to look at Mary as a human and Judas as a human.

Alice Cooper (King Herod)

Photo

“He’s going to be sort of an Elvis impersonator,” Alice Cooper said of his portrayal of King Herod.

Credit
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

On religion My dad was a pastor. My grandfather was an evangelist. And my wife’s father is a Baptist pastor. I was basically the prodigal child — I grew up in the church, went as far away as you could possibly go, and then came back. When I got sober, I started understanding — I had all the fame and the money and everything that went with it, but I started realizing what was important to me was my relationship with Jesus Christ, who I just absolutely torture in this show.

I study the Bible every morning. When I’m at home I have a Wednesday morning men’s Bible study. I pray before every show. I go to church every Sunday with my wife and kids. I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy in my life. People say, ‘Think of all you gave up to be a Christian.’ What did I give up? Dying of alcoholism? I’m not giving anything up. I’m giving it back, to him.

On musicals I am just fascinated by the musical. One of my Sirius stations is always Broadway. ‘A Chorus Line’ was one of the greatest ones. And ‘Guys and Dolls’ — my dad was a big fan of Damon Runyon.

When I was 16, we had a band called The Spiders, in Phoenix, and we got a call for a production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ — ‘Would you guys be the Birdies?’ So we got to be in this run, in real theater. That may have been where the whole Alice Cooper theatrics came from.

On Herod I think he’s going to be sort of an Elvis impersonator — I’m all in gold, and I’ve got a gold suit on that fits really good. The director wants this guy to be half rock star, half king. That’s how I want to play this. This Herod is a swirling mass of paranoia and ego. He starts out being very egocentric, but he’s getting angrier and angrier as it goes along, and pretty soon at the very end he’s right in Jesus’s face — he’s so tired of this guy.

On ‘Superstar’ There has never been a character in history that has ever had more written about him than Jesus Christ. There’s an underlying thing that everybody still wants to know who this guy was.

Continue reading the main story

What’s Cooking in That Egg Spoon? A Bite-Size Culture War


Kat Kinsman, the senior food and drinks editor of the website Extra Crispy, devoted a column to what she saw as the inherent sexism in the egg-spoon attacks. If Francis Mallmann, the subject of a recent Esquire profile titled “Is Francis Mallmann the Most Interesting Chef in the World?,” had cooked an egg with a spoon instead of roasting a lamb on a wooden cross near blazing wood, he’d be a hero, she wrote. (Ms. Waters, incidentally, has given Mr. Mallmann one of her own beloved egg spoons.)

The new round of criticism also struck a nerve with Samin Nosrat, a cookbook author and New York Times Magazine columnist. Cooking an egg in an iron spoon over open fire is really no more precious and probably a lot less elitist than cooking an egg in $300 sous-vide machine, she said in a recent interview — except that women tend to do the former and men the latter.

“Is it any more practical to sous-vide an egg? No,” she said. “But it’s this amazing thing because a man is using it.” Consider the chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. When he celebrates these same ideals, she said, “he gets a hagiographic ‘Chef’s Table’ episode. It pisses me off.”

And now, the latest salvo: In Slow Food’s version of an in-your-face move, Alice Waters’s daughter, Fanny Singer, has introduced an egg spoon for sale through her website Permanent Collection.

The 16-inch iron spoon is hand-forged to Ms. Waters specifications by Shawn Lovell, whom Ms. Singer described in an email as “an incredible female blacksmith in Alameda, CA.”

The spoon costs $250. Five percent of each sale will go to the Edible Schoolyard Project, which began after Ms. Waters made gardening and cooking in schools her life’s work.

Photo

The famous Alice Waters egg spoon, now on sale for $250.

Credit
Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Ms. Waters has never marketed frying pans or signed her name to stoves. But this time the stakes were high enough, Ms. Singer said: “This is attitudinal and atmospheric.”

Still, $250 for a spoon? Doesn’t that just play into the hands of the haters?

“The price of the spoon is beside the point,” Ms. Singer said. “What’s ridiculous is that we treat men and women differently. I have never heard the word ‘precious’ used with a man who has promoted some little specialized gadget.”

For her part, Ms. Waters is as much a supportive parent as she is the figurehead of the spoon wing of the #MeToo movement. “It is hilarious,” she said, “but in another way, I want young boys to hold that spoon, too. I want them to feel the sense of the fire and the closeness to the simplicity of it. It helps you become sensitive. We are hoping men become sensitive and we find each other in that place.”

And what of Mr. Bourdain, the original egg-spoon skeptic? He concedes that there is a bit of sexism baked into the egg-spoon wars, but for him, the issue isn’t gender equity. It’s stupidity.

“I am quite sure male chefs have committed far, far worse crimes in the cause of pretentious and pomposity,” he said. “There is plenty of silliness out there to make fun of on both sides.”

Follow NYT Food on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

Continue reading the main story