Ranking Religious Musicals from Heretical to Holy

By
Share:

Now that The Book of Mormon is Broadway’s second-biggest box-office hit of the year and two revivals of Christian-themed musicals — Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar — are making their way back to the stage this year, we think it’s fair to say that the theater has seen the way of the Lord. Has someone been putting sacrament in the water? Or have playwrights just gotten in touch with their devout — and devoutly satirical — sides? Either way, we’re more interested in how the current slate of God-oriented programming plays measures up to holy productions past, so we’ve ranked seven of them from burn-in-hell blasphemy to virginal virtue after the jump.

7. The Book of Mormon

A collaboration between the creators of South Park and Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon takes the cake as the most sacrilegious item on this list. Missionaries Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are sent from Salt Lake City to Uganda to work their magic, but, met by a warlord-ruled village, rampant STIs, and more problems than watching The Lion King prepared them for, they are in for a combination of cursing and holy names that’s blasphemous even to an audience of atheists. It’s okay, though; Mormons seem to love it.

6. Jesus Christ Superstar

Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ‘70s rock-opera tells the crucifixion story from the perspective of underdog Judas Iscariot. In Weber’s passion of the Christ, Jesus spirals out of control, keeping company with a prostitute and prioritizing himself over the poor. Straddling the blasphemy line, Jesus, in this production, is exposed as a somewhat selfish sell-out endangering his own followers and the Jewish people. The show’s not exactly a rebuke of Jesus the character, either — just an alternative, cynical take on ur-Christianity.

5. Altar Boyz

Picture the Backstreet Boys handing out communion wafers and you’ve got yourself the Christian boy band Altar Boyz, who aim to diminish the suffering of souls in the show’s audience. Staged as a concert of the band that unravels in real time, the dreamy teens — Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and… Abraham — sing and dance to tongue-in-cheek proselytizing hits like “Church Rulez” and lyrics like “girl, you make me want to wait.” There’s no question the show is more Saved! than morning mass, but its lighthearted tone can win over even the most Jesus-fearing hearts.

4. My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy!

More about Jewish culture than religion, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy! reduces the Jewish way of life to unsophisticated Seinfeld humor that revolves around the pun and the bathroom. Not heretical per se, it paints a pretty bleak view of family life if you’ve got any Jewish — or Italian — heritage.

3. Samson and Delilah

Camille Saint-Saëns’ 19th-century opera tells the love-hate story of Samson, the Hercules-like Israelite, and Delilah, his seductress and sneaky mortal enemy. Saint-Saëns portrays Delilah as an evil whore and Samson as a pathetic pushover, but then again, so does the Bible.

2. Godspell

A retelling of the Bible story from St. Matthew’s point of view, Godspell relocates the story of Jesus and his apostles to Manhattan in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The clan take on hippie alter egos and dress in psychedelic garb, but other than the wardrobe and set change, the story sticks fairly close to the original. The play is funny, but not overly sarcastic, and definitely a believer-pleaser.

1. Fiddler on the Roof

The classic Jewish musical depicts a changing Tsarist Russia in 1905. If anything, the play touches poignantly on many truisms of Jewish family life, both endearing and embarrassing, and delivers honest, bittersweet commentary on abandoning religious tradition in favor of a more progressive lifestyle.