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Gender-Bending 'Superstar' Due

October 02, 1994|Steve Hochman

A lot of pop stars have been accused of playing God, but here's a new twist:

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls actually is playing Jesus on a new recording of "Jesus Christ Superstar." It will be released Nov. 8 by Daemon Records, the small, Atlanta-based label that she owns.

Not everyone's looking forward to it.

"Christian conservatives were not too pleased with the original musical in the first place," says Tim Graham, assistant editor of Media Watch, a conservative media newsletter based in Virginia.

"Certainly the idea of a woman playing Jesus seems at least bizarre. . . . It's going to get a little freaky when they sing 'I Don't Know How to Love Him.' "

But even Graham says he finds the idea amusing: "A giggle is my first response."

Ray says that though the Indigo Girls are well-known for taking liberal stands, her playing Jesus is not meant to offend religious sensibilities.

"We didn't present it as 'Jesus as a woman,' but Jesus as Jesus--played by a woman," she says. "My mom has no problem that I played Jesus, and she's pretty conservative."

The idea for Ray to take the part came from the album's producer, Atlanta musician Michael Lorant, who insists that it's not a vanity project for Ray or her Indigo partner, Emily Saliers, who plays Mary Magdalene.

Of more concern to conservatives is the fact that the album's proceeds will benefit handgun control, a personal cause of Lorant's, who was mugged and shot three years ago.

"The message of the musical is probably more crucifix control than gun control," says Graham. "When you do a musical about Jesus that's benefiting gun control, it's like saying Jesus is on the side of handgun control."

Other than Ray's role reversal, the album actually plays it pretty close to the original album production, the breakthrough collaboration of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that spent three weeks at No. 1 in 1970. (Deep Purple's Ian Gillan sang the role of Jesus on that recording.)

Rice, in town recently to see concerts by his "Lion King" partner Elton John, said that he hadn't heard about the new version of "Superstar," but found the notion of a woman playing the title role "interesting, as long as it isn't meant mockingly."

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