Interview with Neil Meron and Marc Platt of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on NBC - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite
 

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By Krista

Neil Meron and Marc Platt 

Interview with Neil Meron and Marc Platt of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on NBC 2/22/18

The call was great! I enjoyed it. I look forward to watching it.

NBC UNIVERSAL Moderator: Erika Lewis
February 22, 2018 12:00 pm CT

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Jesus Christ Superstar Live Concert Press and Media conference call. During the presentation all participants will be in a listen-only mode. Afterwards we will conduct a question and answer session.
At that time if you have a question please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. If at any time during the conference you need to reach an operator you may press the Star followed by the 0.
As a reminder this conference is being recorded today Thursday February 22, 2018. I would now like to turn the conference over to Erika Lewis at NBC. Please go ahead madam.

Erika Lewis: Thank you (Nelson). Hi everyone. My name is Erika Lewis. We are very proud to present Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert airing live on April 1.
And joining us today to answer your questions are executive producers Neil Meron and Marc Platt. Unfortunately Tim Rice was scheduled to join us but he sends his regrets. He is unable to join in today but we expect to have a great conversation with Neil and Marc today.
We just announced the full cast and creative team for the production including Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas, Norm Lewis as Caiaphas and Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate who will be joining John Legend and Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper for what's going to be an amazing production.
Please feel free to ask two questions on your turn and you'll have instructions on how to register for those questions. And if you have any additional questions you can register again. Neil and Marc if you just want to say hello and anything you want to start off with?

Neil Meron: This is Neil and go ahead Marc.

Marc Platt: And this is Marc and we're both really happy to talk to you all and we're both very excited about Jesus Christ Superstar, excited to be working together along with Neil's partner Craig Zadan. And we're looking forward to answer any and all questions you have.

Neil Meron: Well done.

Erika Lewis: Great and we'll get started. Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen if you'd like to register a question please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. You will hear a three-toned prompt to acknowledge your request.

If your question has been asked by another and you would like to withdraw your registration you may press the 1 followed by the 3. If using a speakerphone please lift your handset before entering your request.

Once again to register a question it's the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone keypad. Our first question comes from the line of Paulette Cohn with Parade.com, please proceed.

Paulette Cohn: Terrific. Good morning guys.

Neil Meron: Good morning.

Marc Platt: Good morning.

Paulette Cohn: You know, to me Alice Cooper is an unusual choice so can you talk a little bit about how the thought came about to employ him and also then what he brings to the role?

Neil Meron: Alice, this is Neil and Alice Cooper actually has a history with the Jesus Christ Superstar. There was album probably about ten years ago and he recorded the role of King Herod.

And so when we were going forward with this production Tim Rice said, "What about Alice," because he's in the family. He's terrific. He would lend that rock authenticity. He has that outrageous persona that seems to be very right for King Herod. And we reached out and he was very interested and we were very happy about that.

Paulette Cohn: So what's it been like working with him?

Neil Meron: He hadn't started rehearsals yet but we anticipate it being great.

Marc Platt: It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be a lot of fun. And listen, Jesus Christ Superstar itself is so iconic. It's music is so iconic. It in some ways was very defining of a - for a generation for that kind of narrative music particularly one that appear on the West End and subsequently on Broadway.

And so to have a iconic rock star like Alice Cooper participate in it feels like it elevates the evening and is both organic but also makes a real exciting, exciting enterprise.

And the thing about Superstar it's for all ages. Of course there's those of us who are older who remember it and its impact on us when we were much younger. But it's also something for those who might not know it to be rediscovered and so Alice sort of covers all the bases in that regard.

Paulette Cohn: Terrific.

Neil Meron: And also...

Paulette Cohn: Thank you so much.

Neil Meron: Yes and also you know that Alice Cooper because it is we're doing it in concert style, the idea that we have an actual rock performer in this venue seems to make a great deal of sense.

Paulette Cohn: Terrific. Thanks again.

Operator: Thank you. As a reminder ladies and gentlemen to register a question please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. Our next question comes from the line of Scott Katz with USTownhall.com. Please proceed.

Scott Katz: Yes hi Neil and Marc. Thank you both for taking our call today. I just wanted to actually go through the rest of the cast. We have John Legend as Jesus. We have Sara Bareillis as Mary Magdalene and you announced, Erika just announced three new cast members.

Can you just go through them and basically walk us through why you feel - what they bring to the role and why you feel they're such a right fit for each of their roles?

Marc Platt: Well why don't we hand it off a little bit because I think Neil and I probably feel the same way. John Legend is not only one of the great...

Neil Meron: Yes.

Marc Platt: ...sort of pop stars and personalities of our, you know, of our time now but he has the voice that is distinctive and singular. And we all know it and we're all familiar with it. And so to have the role of Jesus sung by that masterful vocalist and of course (Act 3) he appeared in La La Land among other things will be a great joy and will do justice to the challenge of that score and that particular role.

And the same thing can be said of course of Sara who we all know both from her vocal career, her pop star career, her now Broadway career both as a write and appearing on stage. So to hear her voice sing those gorgeous melodies that we're all so familiar with and have lasted through time is also it's joyous and it's exciting and you really lean into it. And Neil why don't you go through some of the others?

Neil Meron: Sure. And regarding Brandon Victor Dixon we spent and inordinately long time auditing many, many actors to play Judas. And Brandon came in very, very early and he was always the one to beat. And but we did a lot of due diligence because there were a lot of people that want to play that role. And Brandon just has this incredible quality not only vocally but he's also a Tony nominated actor. He's coming off of Hamilton and so it just seemed...

Marc Platt: (Unintelligible).

Neil Meron: ...to make sense for this particular project. And regarding Ben Daniels he's one of the finest actors in the English-speaking world mostly stage and more well-known in the UK than here. But we wanted a really complex actor, somebody that can take on the role of pilot because it is such a conflicted role. So we reached out to Ben and he did a vocal audition for all of us.

And all of these people had to be approved by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. So when we presented them our choices we had to make sure that we as the creative team really endorsed and knew that we were not going to be turned down because we loved all these actors that we've chosen.

Scott Katz: Okay. And my second question is just in terms of - I mean Neil I know you've been involved with these live productions before. Does it ever...

Neil Meron: Well so has Marc.

Scott Katz: ...get any easier? What are the particular...

Neil Meron: Well…

Scott Katz: ...challenges that you've been facing with this venue in Brooklyn and, you know, how has it been going?

Neil Meron: Well I think that's - that can be a question for both Marc and myself because...

Scott Katz: Okay sure.

Neil Meron: ...we - me and Craig Zadan and Marc...

((Crosstalk))

Neil Meron: ...we're the only producers that do these slide musicals which is kind of a very small club to be in. And Marc actually shot a film at this venue that we're shooting at in Brooklyn which is the Marcy Street Amory. So he knew the - the rawness of the space which is what we were looking for just in terms of the presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar.

We wanted to bring it back. We wanted to strip it up a lot of theatricality and go to the essence of concern and have some theatrical staging mixed in and just the rawness of that space and the idea that we can create this environment there just made sense to all of us.

Scott Katz: Okay and Marc what do you - what are your thoughts?

Marc Platt: I mean I think very similar to me like he - we want to deliver. It's a live event. We want to deliver both the story of Jesus Christ Superstar but also the immersive experience of being in a - at a concert so that you the viewer at home watching on his or her TV or his or her screen feels like they are immersed in this live event concert.

So to find a space that has sort of a very urban kind of raw feel that can be - that we can build a set that's like a stage but is also a set and surround it with a live audience so that you feel like you're almost in a stadium as it were is what we're going for. And that excitement and that fervor that you feel when you've been in a concert is what we're trying to deliver here in during the telecast.

Scott Katz: Okay thanks very much and I'll hand it off to the next caller.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Jay S. Jacobs with PopEntertainment.com. Please proceed.

Jay S. Jacobs: Hi, nice to talk to you guys.

Neil Meron: You too.

Jay S. Jacobs: Sort of following-up with what you were just discussing why did you decide that you wanted to do this performance as a concern rather than a more straight staging of the show?

Neil Meron: You know, the basis of Jesus Christ Superstar was this live concert album. It was a rock opera. And then when the album started coming out, when the album first came out unauthorized concert stagings of the piece starting popping up all over the US.

And so I think that was Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's original inclination was to have it done very, very concert-like. The Broadway production that was done in the early 70s kind of deflected from that and gave it a little bit more - a lot more theatricality which was very controversial at the time. But Andrew and Tim really wanted to go back to what the essence of the piece was which was presentational-like in front of a live audience and more concert-like.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay.

Neil Meron: Now the show is...

Marc Platt: And that is organic to what their intention was and we are delivering a concert. But it does have as many concerts do actually these days sort of the bells and whistles of wonderful visuals and enough storytelling you to sit down so you feel the concert, you feel the musicians and the music being played live.

But it does have some of the eye-candy pyrotechnic fun and glory that you would expect at a concert and that you would expect also of a story that is Jesus Christ Superstar.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay. Now the show is originally very much about taking the life of Jesus and sort of making it relevant to the present day which at the time like you said was the early 70s. How do you feel after 50 years the play's importance and messages changed or even strengthened for the new Millennium?

Neil Meron: I actually think it's more relevant now just in terms of something with the best of intentions to heal, to do good, to spread a message of love, to spread a message of life is snuffed out by opposing forces because he's misunderstood by the powers that be. And I think that is incredibly timely.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay.

Marc Platt: And I also think that interestingly enough not just in a - from a nostalgic point of view but the music still is sensational and still feels relevant and in its own way of the moment which is why I'm excited for folks that don't know what to rediscover.

And I was just in rehearsal yesterday and listening to John and Brandon sing and Neil turned to me and said listen to that music. It's just great and it really is. It really feels fresh and as iconic as some of it is.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay great. Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Lauren Gienow with TalkNerdyWithUs.com. Please proceed.

Lauren Gienow: Hi there. Thanks so much for speaking with us today. I...

((Crosstalk))

Lauren Gienow: Let's see here. One question that I have is what was - there always is intention to sort of end up with your casting and sort of a balance of both the musical theater performers or those known most for that as well as the pop and rock stars or is that balance that you seem to have here did that just sort of happen organically?

Neil Meron: I think it was a little bit of both. I mean we wanted the combination because it isn't just singing songs. These songs needed to be acted. So when you examine the piece you want people that can do both and some of the roles you want a little bit more like the role of Pilot.

And even Judas is incredibly complex in this particular telling of the story. So we know that the people that can balance both and still have that incredible vocal ability can come from the theater and we want to populate it with some real authenticity just in terms of a rock sound which is why we have Alice or a pop sound which is why we have John Legend and Sara Bareilles who can do both.

So it really - a happy turn of events that led us to this particular cast but this is kind of the cast - this is the type of cast we were looking for.

Lauren Gienow: Great, thank you. And actually speaking to that cast it's going to be a such a unique set of voices in this. Is there any chance that an album might come out of this?

Neil Meron: There is a chance.

Marc Platt: We're trying.

Lauren Gienow: That would be great. Thank you so much.

Marc Platt: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. As a reminder ladies and gentlemen you can register for your questions by pressing the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone keypad. Our next question comes from the line of Rebecca Murray with Show Biz Junkies. Please proceed.

Rebecca Murray: Good afternoon and I know I'm going to mangle this but why did you guys select the British Theater Director David Leveaux? Is that his last name? Did I say that correctly?

Neil Meron: Yes David Leveaux.

Rebecca Murray: Yes why did you select him to handle this production?

Neil Meron: Marc you want to?

Marc Platt: A number of reasons. There were a number of directors interested but David was very aggressive in pursuing it both because of his personal love of the material and his passion for it. And he's a noted stage director.

You know, people probably hear him - probably know him best from the Revival of the Nineveh I would think from - with (Stronach) and Tony Banderas. So his work on stage is quite accomplished.

And I think that he grew up with a particular love of Jesus Christ Superstar as a younger person and now as an artist. And a director he has the passion for it. And so he was just utterly convincing to us that he felt the music, he felt the characters. He loved the concept of the concerts. He'd worked with camera before so that marriage of stage and camera felt organic and he kind of won us over in that regard. Did I leave anything out Neil?

Neil Meron: No I don't think so. And also what struck us by his work in the past is that it's incredibly visual and we wanted it to be a visual presentation as well.

Rebecca Murray: Great. And then you guys have got so many of these underneath your belts at this point. What's the biggest lesson you said you'd learned over trying to do these type of productions live on television?

Neil Meron: I think one of the biggest lessons - well one of the great things about doing them over and over again is that you are not daunted by the challenge, that you kind of know what the mechanics are that needs to take place in order to fulfill a production live.

Again anything can happen which is kind of the exciting thing but you become less fearful of it as we were when we started with Sound of Music. Marc you may have a different response?

Marc Platt: No, I think you learn a lot about the things you can do in terms of tricks and embracing what's live about it and how to render that exciting and to deliver what is thrilling for an audience.

As, you know, it - you know, Neil and Craig really reintroduced to the world the notion of live musicals which years, you know, many, many, many decades ago had I guess had been done on TV until they reinvent it with Sound of Music. And I think each iteration and each musical there's been more learned in terms of what can and can't be done and how to embrace the fact that it's its own genre kind of.

Rebecca Murray: Yes.

Marc Platt: It's both a stage event like in the theater but there's also a camera or cameras I should say.

Neil Meron: And Marc took it to the next level.

Marc Platt: Well I think we all learned and it evolved. I think it...

Neil Meron: Yes.

Marc Platt: ...continues to evolve. But and I would say the thing we've learned the most however is that it is live as Neil said and anything can happen. And I think the first time out is kind of such a daunting and scary thing. And then you sort of realize well wait a second, that is sort of the point.

So you embrace the things that might go wrong when it's live and you sort of learn to encourage others to let's just go with it. That's part of why an audience tunes in. Of course they want the music...

Neil Meron: (Unintelligible).

Marc Platt: ...delivered magnificently and they want to see the tremendous visuals and exciting narrative and wonderful performance but it's live and they want to feel that they are participants in it because so much of our lives today is, you know, there's a little screen that we get everything off of here. It's live. So I think that's what I learned the most is sort of embrace the liveness and not be fearful of it but just to lean into it.

Rebecca Murray: Great. Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Krista Chain with TV MegaSite. Please proceed.

Krista Chain: Hi. Thanks for taking our calls today.

Marc Platt: Sure.

Krista Chain: What is the biggest challenge that you have had to face with Jesus Christ Superstar?

Neil Meron: I think that the biggest challenge that we all had to face was putting together the puzzle of the casting and made sure that it felt right to us and to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

And that was I think the trickiest and hardest part of the process so far. Right now it's rehearsal so everybody is finding their footing in terms of telling the story. But before that I would say it would be the casting.

Marc Platt: And I think Neil's right. I think in addition to what Neil said earlier about wanting the great balance of both actors and folks from the pop world many of these roles are actually really challenging as vocal roles. And there's certain voices, there's certain more what we call legitimate voices for certain role and more rock sounding voices for others and they're hard to sing.

And we've come from all the years of recording to hear great reporting. So I think the challenge was finding not just the balance but really the performers who could really step in and seeing the material and do it that great score justice so I agree with Neil there.

Krista Chain: Thank you and I look forward to seeing it.

Neil Meron: Great.

Marc Platt: Great.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question is a follow-up from the line of Scott Katz with USTownhall.com. Please proceed.

Scott Katz: Yes I just was curious to know are all the songs from the original stage production going to be in your production or are they - are there going to be any new songs or songs removed?

Neil Meron: Right now -- and we expect it to stay this way -- everything is intact from the way that Andrew and Tim wrote it.

Scott Katz: Okay. And I was just curious is - with all of these productions is some of them have had exterior scenes and interior scenes. Is this production all interior or will there be exterior also?

Marc Platt: This is all on the concert stage as it were. You know, the set that we design that becomes our concert stage. So it is like in a concert in one venue. And it will feel like you're at a concern.

Scott Katz: Okay good enough. Thank you very much.

Marc Platt: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Jay S. Jacobs with PopEntertainment.com. Please proceed.

Jay S. Jacobs: Now Jesus Christ Superstar has been such a classic for so many years. I'd like to ask you not as producers but just as theater fans what was your first experience with learning about Jesus Christ Superstar?

Neil Meron: My first experience was getting the album and putting it on and just being knocked out by the sound. I was always a fan of musical theater. But for some reason, you know, and I was a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn at the time.

Jay S. Jacobs: Right.

Neil Meron: And just getting Jesus Christ Superstar just took me to another level. And I listened to it over and over and over again. And I knew who Murray Head was and Barry Dennen and Yvonne Elliman.

And these people became important to me. And then when it opened on Broadway I had seen it five times so I loved it. And of course it introduced the world to Ben Vereen at the time as Judas.

Jay S. Jacobs: Right.

Neil Meron: So it's played a big part. I've seen a lot of iterations of it in the past.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay.

Marc Platt: I think my first - I never saw it on Broadway back in the day. I think wasn't, "I don't know how to love him," a single, released as a single in its day...

Neil Meron: Yes it was a big hit.

Marc Platt: ...Neil?

Neil Meron: It was a big hit. Yes.

((Crosstalk))

Neil Meron: It was a very big hit, yes.

Marc Platt: That's what I remember. Yes that's what I remember first as a youngster hearing that song on the radio and I...

Neil Meron: By the way, you know who recorded it? It was Helen Reddy. She had...

Marc Platt: Oh wow.

Neil Meron: ...the big hit.

Marc Platt: Yes I knew - wow, so there you go. I think that was my first...

((Crosstalk))

Marc Platt: ...hearing that song, hearing a - hearing that song which was a big hit hearing it over and over and that led me to go buy the album. I remember it had the brown album cover with like the gold...

Neil Meron: That's right.

Marc Platt: ...embossed Jesus Christ Superstar on it. And so I can literally remember holding that album in my hand and then hearing the rest of the music and like Neil kind of being sort of God-smacked by it.

Jay S. Jacobs: Okay great. And did you consider bringing back any people from some of the past casts of the play? I know you mentioned that Alice had played Herod before to be involved the show maybe in smaller roles or in the chorus or anything like that?

Neil Meron: No I don't think we really talked about it, doesn't mean it won't happen but I don't think we have had any serious considerations about some of these people. Barry Dennen unfortunately passed away. But Ted Neeley who played Jesus in the film is still touring somewhere as Jesus and Yvonne Elliman is around too.

Marc Platt: Right yes.

Jay S. Jacobs: That's amazing, that's amazing, incredible.

Neil Meron: Okay well thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And I'm showing no questions at this time.

Erika Lewis: Yes sorry, it's Erika. I just wanted to have you talk a little bit about the creative team that you guys have put together. We talked a little bit about David Leveaux.

We also have Alex Rudzinski, Harvey Mason Jr. and Nigel Wright and, you know, like Paul Taswell who designed The Wiz Live costume. Can you talk a little bit about putting your team together?

Marc Platt: Go ahead Neil.

Neil Meron: Marc. Oh...

Marc Platt: Well I mean I can speak and look, we've all worked with (Alex)...

Neil Meron: Yes.

Marc Platt: ...before. He's brilliant...

Neil Meron: Yes.

((Crosstalk))

Marc Platt: ...(unintelligible) director and he marries so well to the stage director in taking his or her vision and then finding a way with the cameras to make it exciting and dazzling but true to the narrative.

And some of these - some - Neil you've worked with some of these folks before and I'm loving...

Neil Meron: Yes.

Marc Platt: ...working with all of them but why don't you speak to them?

Neil Meron: The people that we worked with before Paul Taswell who is the...

Marc Platt: (Unintelligible).

Neil Meron: ...Tony award-winning designer of Hamilton who won an Emmy for designing the Wiz Live for us and there's nobody better at costumes than Paul. So we're thrilled that he wants to do this and he was available to do this for us. Harvey Mason, Jr. is some of the best music producers out there. He's produced the sound track recording to Dream Girls.

He did all three Pitch Perfect movies. He has worked with everybody from Beyoncé to John Legend. And we're very lucky to have him as our music producer. In addition to Nigel Wright as our musical director who is - who has conducted and been musical director for many of Andrew Lloyd Webber's productions so he's in the family of the Andrew and Tim world so that's really great to have him involved. And our production designer is new to all of us. We had some meetings with various people that wanted to do the production design for their show.

And our Director, David Leveaux suggested this guy Jason Adrizzone West. And he's a newish designer. He came in and just knocked us out with his thoughts and ideas for the presentation of the piece. And our instincts as producers proved to be correct because what the designed is knockout worthy. It felt really, really terrific.

Erika Lewis: Great, thank you so much. And then finally just before we wrap up Neil do you want to just let us know how rehearsals are going? You've seen a bit of John. You've seen a bit of...

((Crosstalk))

Neil Meron: And Marc has too okay.

Erika Lewis: Oh great.

Neil Meron: Marc has too so we've both seen it. So Marc you want to speak first?

Marc Platt: I was going to say I think I mean for both - I think we're both very excited and very thrilled. There's a lot of hard work ahead of us and there's a lot of hard work to do. But from the first week of rehearsal and the what I've seen like I said Neil looked at me yesterday and we both our eyes were wide like little kids.

Hearing that incredible cast, seeing that music and watching the staging start to come to life as it is so I - we're very excited and can't wait to watch it every day as it continues to evolve into what I know will be a memorable and exciting and thrilling event and how wonderful to have it on Easter Sunday and what a great experience for the whole family to get to enjoy on that day.

Neil Meron: And also not to quote another musical but one that our new Judas has been involved with it's very exciting to be in the room where it happens because it - you are seeing it all come to life and you're hearing these voices sing that score the way it should be sung and the way you wanted it, the way you hear it in your head.

And when you hear these great artists like John Legend and Sara Bareilles and Brandon do their thing it's pretty thrilling and it - it's - it bodes us well for the future.

Marc Platt: Indeed.

((Crosstalk))

Erika Lewis: That's sounds amazing. Sorry Marc did you...

Marc Platt: No, I said that's great.

Erika Lewis: Okay.

Marc Platt: I'm all good.

Erika Lewis: Well thank you so much. Unfortunately we are out of time but I want to thank everybody for joining the call today, especially Neil and Marc for answering our questions.

You can find the latest news and information about Jesus Christ Superstar live in concert at our press site at nbcumv.com. And thanks again for joining and I hope everyone has a great day.

Operator: Thank you ladies and gentlemen. That does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your line.

END

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