DAILY DOSE OF HOPE – BLOG – NAIMA LETT
FAITH SELLS ON BROADWAY & BEYOND
photo source, Raven-Symoné in Sister Act on Broadway, © photo by Joan Marcus
At least that’s what Broadway is banking on.
It’s extraordinary that 5 musicals centered around faith were running on Broadway the last couple of months, with 1 more mounting in the wings:
Sister Act – produced by Whoopi Goldberg, now starring TV star Raven-Symoné, 5 Tony noms
Leap of Faith – nominated for Tony Award for Best Musical
Godspell – revamped and modernized revival of 1971 musical about Jesus’ parables
Jesus Christ Superstar – famous 70’s Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice musical thru Judas’ eyes
Book of Mormon – Won 9 Tony Awards including 2011 Best Musical, from creators of South Park
Saving Aimee – Now casting; Created by talk-show host Kathie Lee Gifford about the life of Aimee Semple McPherson, “the 1920s evangelist who fell from grace due to a scandal”.
Move over Tyler Perry and the Kendrick Brothers (Courageous, Fireproof), the industry has figured out you’re making millions creating projects for faith-based audiences and wants “in” on the action.
A recent article featured on Playbill entitled Religion, Faith and Musicals Are a Smashing Mix by Jared Eberlein “talks about how musicals use faith and religion, preachers and followers, God and the Bible to make us understand ourselves.”
When you have time, read it. It discusses faith-based Broadway shows dating back to the 60s. Who knew?
The current resurgence means Broadway producers believe:
1) Audiences want to see faith-based musicals, and
2) There’s $$ to be made.
Here’s the tricky part.
There’s a grave disconnect somewhere.
Tim Rice, co-creator of Jesus Christ Superstar, is quoted in the above-mentioned article as saying, “Religion seeks to answer the question, “Why are we all here?… ‘Superstar’, for all its faults and naiveté, is really trying to tell a story of how somebody such as Judas Iscariot, or even Pontius Pilate would’ve reacted to somebody saying he was God — or at least having other people claim he was God.” He continues, “I certainly would identify more with Judas than with Jesus. It’s easier and more natural to identify with a character that is flawed than a character that is perfect. I enjoy writing about these imperfect people because it seems to me that I’m quite like them.”
Do you see the disconnect, Fam?
While it’s true, from an artist’s viewpoint, that people are more likely to identify with flawed characters rather than perfect characters (which is why all of our lead characters on TV and film have major flaws), I don’t know one Christian who wants to identify with Judas Iscariot.
What some of our Broadway creators may be missing is that followers of Christ very much want to identify with Christ, not His betrayer. We understand that we will never be perfect on this side of heaven, but guess what, we know we will be made perfect when we are united with Christ on the other side. We don’t look at Jesus as simply a perfect man. He is God the Son. We’re willing to die for Him. People all over the world have. It’s major.
That’s what the Kendrick Brothers and Tyler Perry have figured out. Many in the industry consider Kendricks’ and Perry’s projects as artistically sub-par, but these filmmakers don’t care because they’re making projects that encourage people of faith to celebrate, not scrutinize, their faith. Their audiences, in return, respond by buying out box offices tickets, play tickets, DVDs, books, etc.
Who wants to pay money to go to a play or movie that ridicules one’s faith for 2 hours?
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Unless you’re the new religious kid on the block i.e. Book of Mormon from the creators of the controversial cartoon South Park. The blatantly sacrilegious musical about two Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City trying to solve problems like AIDS in Uganda is a gamble that paid off for its investors.
So, not only does FAITH sells, but RIDICULING FAITH sells too.
With many Christians oblivious to Mormonism, the creators of the Book of Mormon could sell the musical to the masses without offending Christians who don’t even know the musical exists.
That’s what’s happening in music today as well.
Not many Christians even took the time to listen to Lady Gaga’s Judas song released the week of Easter with its techno refrain “I’m in love with Judas”, even though it pulled strong comparisons to Madonna’s Like a Prayer controversy from 30 years earlier. The ladies on The View concluded both Gaga and Madonna were Catholic girls trying to “work out” their issues with their Church.
I don’t know what the Catholic Church did to Gaga, but with lyrics like the following, I’m not sure how much is actually being “worked out”.
Excerpt from Judas, as performed by Lady Gaga:
In the most Biblical sense,
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas kiss me if offenced,
Or wear an ear condom next time
I wanna love you, but something’s pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue and Judas is the demon I cling to I cling to
Just a holy fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
Written by Nadir Khayat, Stefani Germanotta, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Clutch the pearls, if you will, but Gaga is making millions and her Judas video has over 143 million hits on YouTube. 143,000,000. If you haven’t seen it, for sure your children have. I don’t expect anything different from Gaga. I do pray for her. Obviously, there’s a lot going on.
I find myself repeating Jesus’ prayer a lot:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus utters this prayer in the midst of His crucifixion. He looks out at those harming Him and intercedes for them.
That’s my heart for a many artists. They are lashing out at God and faith and religion and I’m thinking, “Lord, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
I haven’t met Gaga yet, but why would anyone want to sing (and have several kids singing) that you’re beyond repentance and clinging to the demonic?
I think she does not know what she’s doing.
Or maybe she does. And if that’s the case, pray all the more.
Gaga might want to take a page from Whoopi’s songbook. Sister Act embraces and creates funny situations in a faith setting and has endeared audiences for 20 years.
Whoopi starred in the 1992 film, Sister Act, which cost $24 million, and made over $231 million. Needless to say, there was a Sister Act II. Then, a musical play version broke records at the Pasadena Playhouse here in the LaLa in 2006 making millions. Whoopi produced the play version in London in 2009 and brought it to Broadway in 2011, garnering 5 Tony Award nominations, where it has been running for over a year.
Television star Raven-Symoné, from NBC’s The Cosby Show and Disney’s That’s So Raven, just joined the cast a few months ago. The director is 4-time Tony Award winner, Jerry Zaks, that I had to pleasure of filming with a couple of years ago.
If it’s anything like what I saw with The Color Purple on Broadway a couple of years ago, church buses would be going in droves. Why? Because it’s a feel good musical with good music that uplifts the faith, not tears it down.
Honestly, I’m not sure that producers care one way or another as long as they make their investors money back.
But I care.
I believe that we can make quality art on stage and camera and in music that uplifts people in their faith and satisfies investors.
If I get a chance to see Sister Act soon, I’ll let you know if that belief holds up :=),
What do you think?
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