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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
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.
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
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?
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
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?
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
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
Paulette Cohn: Terrific.
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.
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.
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
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
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...
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...
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...
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
Neil Meron: ...we - me and Craig Zadan and
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?
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
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
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
Jay S. Jacobs: Okay.
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
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:
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.
Jacobs: Okay great. Thank you.
Operator: Thank you.
Our next question comes from the line of Lauren Gienow with
TalkNerdyWithUs.com. Please proceed.
Hi there. Thanks so much for speaking with us today. I...
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
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
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
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.
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
Lauren Gienow: That would be great. Thank
you so much.
Marc Platt: Thank you.
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
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
Rebecca Murray: Yes why did you select him
to handle this production?
Neil Meron: Marc you want
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
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
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...
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).
...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.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question
comes from the line of Krista Chain with TV MegaSite. Please
Krista Chain: Hi. Thanks for taking our
Marc Platt: Sure.
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.
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
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?
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
Jay S. Jacobs: Right.
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
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:
Neil Meron: So it's played a big part. I've
seen a lot of iterations of it in the past.
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
Neil Meron: Yes it was a big hit.
Neil Meron: It was a big hit. Yes.
Neil Meron: It was a very big hit,
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...
Platt: Oh wow.
Neil Meron: ...the big hit.
Marc Platt: Yes I knew - wow, so there you go. I think that
was my first...
...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
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
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.
Platt: ...before. He's brilliant...
Neil Meron: Yes.
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
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?
The people that we worked with before Paul Taswell who is
Marc Platt: (Unintelligible).
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
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...
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.
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.
Erika Lewis: That's sounds amazing.
Sorry Marc did you...
Marc Platt: No, I said that's
Erika Lewis: Okay.
Marc Platt: I'm all
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
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