JOHN LEGEND TALKS JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
John Legend Talks Jesus Christ Superstar, Performance Butterflies and How Fatherhood Changed Him
– By Mara Reinstein – 3-23-18
Grammy, Tony and Oscar winner John Legend, 39, who displayed his musical and acting chops in 2016’s La La Land, says he’s eager to take on the title character in the new one-night TV event Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1971 rock opera, the Easter telecast (April 1 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC) will be performed in front of an audience in Brooklyn, New York, and will also feature rock icon Alice Cooper as Herod and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene. Legend, a native of Springfield, Ohio, will have a vocal cheering section: Chrissy Teigen, his nearly 7-months-pregnant supermodel wife of four years, and their daughter, Luna, who turns 2 on April 14.
What’s the most challenging part about playing this role?
Jesus Christ is obviously one of the most talked-about figures in world history. And I was singing Andrew Lloyd Webber productions in show choir, including songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, when I was a kid. It’s going to be fun to dive into it and make it my own.
The Broadway production and the 1973 movie were fairly scandalous.
When you put your own interpretation on what Jesus might have been feeling or thinking, it’s going to ignite some controversy—he’s considered a deity by people all around the world. But I think what makes the show so powerful and cool is that Andrew Lloyd Webber took this person and thought to humanize his challenges, emotions and frightening experiences.
Do you remember your first live performance?
It was a Christmas musical at church in Ohio when I was 4 or 5 years old. My grandfather was our church pastor, my grandmother was the church organist and my mother was a choir director. I got the singing bug really early on.
What were your other favorite Sunday memories growing up?
I’d go to Sunday school around 10 and church would last until 1 or 1:30. Then we’d go home and watch football games. Sundays were always about food and football.
What’s a typical Sunday like now?
I love Sundays. It’s my favorite day of the week because I still associate it with family and love and being relaxed and lazy. When we’re home [in Beverly Hills, Calif.], we often cook a big dinner.
Who does the cooking?
Chrissy is in charge of the cooking, and I’m a very good sous chef. It’s a collaborative effort. And we still watch a lot of football. My favorite team is the Cincinnati Bengals, which is a source of a lot of disappointment. Saturdays are good because my favorite college team, the Ohio State Buckeyes, usually wins!
How has fatherhood changed you?
Now we think of ourselves as more of a team. You have this important project you’re doing together, as a family. It elevates your relationship. It gives you a sense of responsibility because it raises the stakes and changes your priorities.
How will this version differ from the movies, touring shows, Broadway productions?
I don’t want to over-preview it. Our director [David Leveaux] wants it to feel fresh and new for today. But it’s essentially going to be a concert. So the cast and I are coming at it as musicians.
Do you anticipate any butterflies?
I’m not afraid of live TV. I’ve done a lot of live performances, and I’m used to that. But I do feel a little added pressure because I didn’t write these songs. This is revered material! I don’t want to mess that up.
You co-produced the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival drama Monster, and in 2016 you co-starred in La La Land. What do these projects do for you that singing doesn’t? I think of it all as a continuum of storytelling and performing and entertaining. They’re not different or separate entities from each other. Even as a kid, I was doing acting and doing choir. That’s who I was.
Do you realize that if you win an Emmy for Jesus Christ Superstar, you’ll achieve the prestigious EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony] feat? Um, yeah, but I’m not plagued by the success of that. I’m just hoping to do a good job and do right by the material.
Love song “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder. “It has a gospel feel and takes me back to my youth.”
Book “The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is really powerful. James Baldwin and Toni Morrison are my favorite authors.”
Vacation spot “We got married in Lake Como, Italy. It’s amazing. We had dinner with George Clooney there once.”
Cuisine “I love Southern soul food, like fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens. But if I ate that all the time, I’d be 100 pounds heavier!”
Breakfast food Pancakes and French toast
Musical “Fela! It’s the story of Fela Kuti. It’s a type of music you don’t expect to hear on Broadway. I loved Hamilton too.”
Movie “Get Out. And I love Coming to America.”
TV show to binge “Chrissy and I have seen every single episode of Black Mirror. Every. Episode.”