Its a feat so challenging that only 12 people have ever managed to pull it off. Only five have earned the distinction this century, and none has ever done it in under a decade.
Were talking, naturally, about EGOT-ing—that is, winning a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony in a single lifetime. (A slightly less tiny group includes those who check at least one of those boxes with an honorary award.) The last person to join this ultra-exclusive club was composer Robert Lopez, who gained entry in 2014 with a best-original-song Oscar for Frozen. Lopez also holds the record for fastest-ever EGOT: 10 years. Other household names whove completed the circuit are Audrey Hepburn (it took her 41 years to do it), Mel Brooks (who did it in a mere 34), Mike Nichols (40), and Whoopi Goldberg (17).
So heres the crazy thing: If NBCs Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert secures an Emmy nomination for best variety special (live) and goes on to win, the EGOT club will expand by a full 25 percent. Thats because no fewer than three of the musical productions executive producers—Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the music; Tim Rice, who wrote the book; and John Legend, who played the title role of Jesus—are all just one Emmy away from the biggest prize of all. Crazier still: there is a good argument to be made that Legend would break Lopezs record, by six years. Because even though he won his first Grammy way back in 2006, for best new artist, Legend won his most recent Grammy (for the song “Glory” from Selma) in 2016. His Oscar (also for ”Glory”) came in 2015, and his Tony (for producing the Broadway revival of Jitney) was in 2017. So, by adding the Emmy in 2018, he would win all four awards in just four years. (It probably goes without saying that he would be the first person ever to win one of each award in consecutive years.)
For Webber and Rice, the success of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert is the culmination of a five-year collaboration that began when they met in 1965. Fittingly for this group of cross-platform specialists, the show actually began as a concept album, which was released in 1970. “Although we had aspirations for it to be a theater piece, nobody was remotely interested in producing it in a theater,” Webber recalled during a recent phone call. “You could imagine—we come in and say, We want to do a musical called Jesus Christ Superstar. We were shown the door quicker than you could imagine.”
Because they were writing for radios and record players rather than the stage, Webber and Rice had to tell an entire story through songs or wordless music, with no connective tissue of spoken dialogue. “The whole scene had to be told so that, without seeing it, you understood what was going on,” Webber said.
The effort paid off: “Here in America, the album was absolutely huge,” said Webber. “It was then performed in arenas around America, very much as a rock concert.”
That was all well and good, but something got lost when the show finally got its Broadway debut, in 1971. “I was never a fan of that production at all,” said Webber, who would go on to score the longest-running productions in the history of Broadway (Cats) and Londons West End (Phantom of the Opera). “It was directed by Tom OHorgan, who directed Hair, and it was just vulgar and glitzy and over-the-top. Superstar should never be glitzy—it should be raw and rough. What I loved about the NBC version is they embraced all of that.”
Executive-produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, NBCs Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert aired on Easter Sunday and was viewed by 9.6 million people. In addition to Legend, the cast included Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, Alice Cooper as King Herod, and Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas—who, in one of the shows most irreverent twists, gets all the best material. The musical “is from Judass point of view,” Webber confirmed, adding that this unexpected perspective helps make the piece continually relevant for young audiences. “Judas is bringing us back to the political reality of the situation.”
The part of Jesus was written for a tenor, so Legend, a baritone, had to make a few vocal adjustments here and there. “But he sang it in the original keys,” Webber said. “There were no alterations.” Webber should know, since he insisted on being present in the mixing truck during the entire performance. “Im afraid Im one of those people, when it comes to sounds, I drive people mad because Im all over it,” he said. “So I never saw it in the room. Everybody said it sounded great in the room, but I never saw it.”
The 2018 Emmy nominations will be announced on July 12. If Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert earns an expected nod, the race will be on to see if Webber, Rice, and Legend will all add their names to entertainments most rarefied roster. But Webber, who collected a lifetime achievement at the Tonys this month alongside Chita Rivera, says that he wont lose sleep over the race either way.
“You know what? Its great when you get awards, but Im not sort of obsessed with the things.”
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