Michael Lee emerges as agonizing Jesus

By Korea Herald

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ returns to Seoul after six years away

  • Published : May 5, 2013 - 19:45
  • Updated : May 5, 2013 - 19:45

Korean-American singer Michael Lee’s performance as the agonizing Jesus during his final week in Jerusalem was received with a standing ovation Thursday, leaving the audience cheering with passion at Seoul’s Charlotte Theater.

One of the most anticipated musicals of this spring season, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary rock-opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” recently opened its current run in Seoul, six years since it was last staged here in 2007.

For its current run, the show’s local organizer Seol & Company chose Broadway singer Lee, who reportedly has done more than 400 stagings of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and performed both Jesus and Judas, to star as Christ. 
A scene from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” (Seol & Company)

This is his first time he is starring in the rock-musical in Korea, after appearing in the Korean production of “Miss Saigon” in 2011 and during Parsons Dance Company’s Seoul performance last year.

The rock-musical is said to present a humanized version of Jesus. Unlike how he is portrayed in the Bible, the piece is known for featuring his doubts and fears, as well as his disillusionment in being the Messiah.

Rocking his pure-white robes, however, Lee seemed more divine than human at times ― contrary to the typical depiction of the Christ that the countercultural musical is known for.

Lee’s Jesus was rather enigmatic, more mysterious to the audience than he is to those around him ― including Judas (played by local rock star Yoon Do-hyun). His feelings for Mary Magdalene, especially, remained a mystery, even when actress Jeong Seon-ah beautifully delivered the character’s famous number “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” While it is more than clear that the woman is in love with Jesus, viewers can’t tell if the feelings are mutual.

The highlight of the show was certainly Lee’s number, “I Only Want to Say” ― one of the most difficult songs to perform in the show ― when Jesus prays at Gethsemane the day before his arrest. In the scene, Jesus says he is “sad and tired,” and obviously scared. “I’d want to see my God, why I should die?” Jesus prays in the scene. “Would I be more noticed than I ever was before? Would the things I’ve said and done matter anymore?”

Lee pulled off the song with great stage presence and rock ‘n’ roll techniques, making the character’s torments believable ― regardless of whether he is a political martyr or the savior of mankind. 
Rock singer Yoon Do-hyun stars as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Seol & Company)

Local rock star Yoon Do-hyun, who starred as the skeptical and complex Judas, performed the numbers well, showing off his rock spirit and his already well-known musical caliber. However, many of his scenes felt as if they were part of the rocker’s solo concert, rather than him “playing” Judas ― a very layered and politically conflicted character in the show. More nuanced acting on his part would have made the show more enjoyable.

Musical actor Park Eun-tae is sharing the role of Jesus with Michael Lee, while Han Ji-sang is sharing the role of Judas with Yoon.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs until June 9 at Charlotte Theater in Jamsil, southern Seoul. Tickets range from 50,000 won to 130,000 won. For more information, call 1577-3363.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)