On Easter movies, alternative traditions, and ‘Muppet Christ Superstar’

life-of-brian-re-release

Every holiday has its own traditions, and watching certain holiday-themed movies has long been part of many family’s annual observations of Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and others.

Easter is no exception.

As practiced in America (and many other Western countries), Easter has become an especially odd blend of sacred and secular, as some approach the holiday with reverence while others dream of Easter eggs and bunny rabbits. And of course, some interfaith families incorporate Passover observations into their annual Easter activities, as well.

And almost everyone watches movies.

Easter, over the decades, has become a very movie-friendly holiday.

It’s true, each year, the networks and cable stations fill our airwaves with broadcasts of such seasonal entertainments as “The Ten Commandments,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown.”

For many, it wouldn’t be Easter without watching a film.

Or listening to an album.

Of the aforementioned “Jesus Christ Superstar,” there are many who prefer listening to the original 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice recording featuring Ian Gillan and Murray Head. Once seen as blasphemous (and yes, there are some who still view it that way), “Superstar” has gradually found itself in the mainstream, and today, many churches present their own productions of the musical at Easter time. In all of its forms – the movies, the stage shows and the various original cast recordings – “Jesus Christ Superstar” has become a traditional part of the Easter holiday for many, many people.

But then there are the more recent “alternative” movie and TV traditions, adopted as a way of poking fun at or tweaking the cinematic conventions of the mainstream. For every screening of “Ben-Hur,” “Easter Parade” and “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” and “Superstar,” there are countless people who’ve made it a point to gather together on or around Easter and collectively watch … something else. Maybe something weird, something ironic.

Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” is one popular example.

Annual screenings of the 1979 satirical epic (which was banned by the Catholic Church upon its original release) have become a regular activity for plenty of folks each Spring. In fact, watching “Life of Brian” – and whistling along to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” during the climactic crucifixion scene – has pretty much become old news by now, even somewhat bordering on cliché.

But since 2014, a surprising new candidate for the most popular “alternative” Easter entertainment has (ahem …) arisen. Still largely unknown, spread through word of mouth and digital download, it’s a truly underground bit of satirical “theater” that began as a Kickstarter project and has experienced a number of legal challenges on its way to becoming a certified Easter tradition for hundreds of thousands of people.

It is “Muppet Christ Superstar.”

Created over two days in 2014 by multi-instrumentalist Canadian (and longtime Muppet fan) Christopher Graham, the parody – which Graham argues is legal since satire is protected speech – recreates several of the songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but imagine them being performed by the Muppets, with Graham (mostly effectively) recreating all the voices himself.

In the role of Jesus is, of course, Kermit, though he’s referred to as Kermit, and frequently as a frog, throughout the recording. Miss Piggy is Mary Magdalene, Pepe the prawn is Pontius Pilate, Rowlf the dog is King Herod, various Muppets from Beeker to the members of The Electric Mayhem are the apostles, and Gonzo is a surprisingly spot-on Judas.

The-MuppetsThe lyrics are appropriately tweaked here-and-there, as in Gonzo’s opening version of “Heaven on Their Minds,” when he sings, “If you strip away the myth from the frog you will see where we all soon will be …. Kermi-i-i-i-i-it!” He later refers to himself as Kermit’s “right-hand thing.” In King Herod’s Song, the word God is swapped for Frog (and occasionally Dog, as the case may be), and there are loads of similar adaptations throughout the production.

Listening to the thing is not always easy. Meaning, it’s not always easy to find it online to listen to it.

After providing numerous downloads of the “album” to those who supported its creation on Kickstarter, Graham has seen the thing be posted and removed numerous times on various websites. The best way to hear it, currently, is on YouTube, where fans continue to post it, especially as the calendar draws closer to Easter.

So yes, you can probably find it fairly easily right now.

But be warned.

Once you hear “Muppet Christ Superstar,” you may just find it so clever, funny, sweet, and bizarre and strangely moving (its true!), that you end up making it an annual Easter tradition yourself.

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