School and religion shouldn’t mix

With over 200 students participating in the hundred year anniversary of New Trier’s Choir Opera, the focus of the spring musical should have been New Trier’s talented student body, and historic devotion to the arts.

Yet, the production choice of “Jesus Christ Superstar” left many questions for me to focus on instead. Isn’t the show religious, can it be put on in a public school? Is the show sticking with the anti-semitic tale that the Jews killed Jesus? Is Judas’s death going to be shown? Who’s idea was this? 

Before writing this article, I began with the most obvious question, is it appropriate for a public school to be putting on a show about the so-called son of God?

Right off the bat the show goes against several rulings that there should be no religious displays on school property. Featuring glowing angels on every poster, alternating crosses on set pieces, and you guessed it, Jesus Christ hanging from the cross, there is no doubt that religion is being displayed.

But here is where things get a bit dicey, students aren’t mandated to go to a school show. The angels on display are clearly a violation, but the show itself? Student’s who are uncomfortable could hypothetically just not go.

While this may be true of the production as a whole, the advisery preview of the show, as well as the student council elections held in the auditorium, made the set and musical unavoidable to many students. Not to mention the social pressure to go to the show, and the requirement of students in theater classes to attend.

Despite all of these symbols, the original production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” still leaves room for it to be seen as a piece of historical fiction rather than a biblical retelling.

Of the most compelling components of the original is the ambiguity over whether Jesus really is the son of God. Throughout the show he never admits or denies his follower’s claims, instead the show ends with the uneasy feeling that maybe Jesus Christ was just a man.

Contrasting the original, New Trier’s production leaves the viewer with no doubt of Jesus’s godly lineage, as it shows a “dead” Jesus being resurrected and returning to his followers.

This departure from the original production as well as the lyricist Tim Rice’s belief that Jesus was not the messiah, further blurs the line between church and state as a result of the show.

Aside from the religious connotations, the graphic imagery depicted raised further questions over the appropriateness of the show for high school students.

Mitigated by only a brief warning of content just as the lights go out, the production hardly warns the viewer of what is to come. While there are some instances in which this vague warning may be fitting, a school play is not one of them.

The show depicts a guilt ridden Judas tying a noose around his neck to hang himself in front of the audience, in a disturbing suicide.

Later, Jesus is brutally whipped by the townspeople, slathered in fake blood by the end.

Ultimately, the flaws of the show, while worrisome and controversial, should not be tied to the students in its production. In fact the students exemplified the positive aspects of the theater department, putting on a show ripe with talent and showcasing the incredible results of months of hard work.

Although one aspect of art is to stir conversation and controversy, the impact of this choice and the creative liberties taken must also be recognized.