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The Bible and Pop Culture

Which British composer wrote music about Jacob and his twelve sons, and about Jesus?

Andrew Lloyd Webber. In Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968), Webber and lyricist Tim Rice envisioned the Old Testament account of Joseph and his family set to music and dance. Filled with buoyant, catchy tunes, the score also features somber moments, such as Joseph’s song from prison, “Close Every Door.” The show is filled with sight and sound gags, including the Elvis Presleyesque Pharaoh and the Parisian café setting for Joseph’s starving brothers in the song “Those Canaan Days.”

In the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), Webber and Rice teamed up again to set the last days of Jesus to song and dance. Like Joseph, this musical is filled with memorable, bright songs which contrast dramatically with somber moments, such as when Jesus, left alone in the garden, sings the mournful “Gethsemane.”

Webber and Rice are not the only ones to build musicals around the Bible. Stephen Schwartz adapted John-Michael Tebelak’s book Godspell to create a musical of the same name in 1971. Godspell features the parables of Jesus. Schwartz’s music is supplemented by traditional Episcopal hymns.


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