The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, has been touring the world since it first premiered 42 years ago. Now, due to a controversial new religious offense law, it has been banned in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a non-religious retelling of the Gospels from the perspective of Judas, in rock-opera form. The famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has been performed in almost every Christian country, and was made into a top-grossing movie.
However, the appearance of the show in Rostov-on-Don has been cancelled due to complaints from Orthodox Christians, who say the production is in breach of the new religious offense law.
The Orthodox Christians, a group of eighteen private citizens, reportedly sent a letter to the administration of the city ahead of the touring performance of the show.
One of the citizens told Life News, “In our view the image of Christ presented in the opera is incorrect. If they want to stage a play about the life of the Savior, they should first clear it with the local church authority.”
“Now that there is a law for these offenses, we have decided to appeal to the state for help,” he added.
The law that the citizens are invoking was drafted in the wake of Pussy Riot's offending "punk prayer" in Moscow's central cathedral earlier in the year, after which members of the group were sentence to two years in a penal colony for hooliganism. The bill calls for up to three years' imprisonment for disrespecting religious sensibilities and is currently under discussion in the Duma.
Svetlana Zhabina, deputy director of the Rostov Philharmonic Theater has said that they have been instructed to stop selling tickets for the production. “We have no choice. Now, we have to wait for the decision from the city authorities,” she said.
Valentina Vaulina, who booked the musical at Saint Peterburg's Rock Opera Theater, said, “The opera has been performed for decades and has been recognized as a masterpiece. To talk about it from a religious point of view is unnecessary. Opera should be treated as art.”
One of Rock Opera’s actresses, Maria Klimova, was quoted as saying, “This show has been performed by our theater for 20 years.”
“People come to know this story - generations. There is nothing insulting in this work. It is his (Lloyd Webber’s) version of the story. This is all some kind of misunderstanding,” she added.
The musical was first staged at Saint Petersburg’s Rock Opera Theater in 1990. The Theater has put on the rock opera four times in Rostov over the last two decades, without protest.
Despite the fact that the Orthodox Christians' complaint appears to have been successful, apparently the local church does not support these complaints.
According to Igor Petrovsky, spokesman of the local archdiocese, “I’d like to note this is the opinion of some citizens, and not actually the official stance of the Church. Maybe they should have got a blessing from their priest before firing off a complaint.”
The video above is an extract from the movie version of the Rock Opera.