In February, electro-rapper Peaches announced her plans for Peaches Christ Superstar, a one-woman rendition of the biblical rock opera, performing each and every role herself, backed only by pianist (and longtime friend and collaborator) Chilly Gonzales. Considering the film version runs at 108 minutes, that sounds about as simple as, say, walking on water while turning it into wine. But what proved to be a real challenge were the legal aspects: when the musical’s rights-holders in Germany learned of her plans, the production was seemingly “crucified” (as Peaches declared on Twitter), only to be “resurrected” a poetic three days later, after negotiations.
OK, enough mocking our lord and savior. I had a chat with Ms. Peaches about the irony-laced controversy that has clung to this musical nearly 40 years after its inception. A transcript follows below, audio airs the week of March 15th on BLN.FM, and an extended Q&A can be heard in the April edition of Expatriarch Radio.
Peaches Christ Superstar featuring Chilly Gonzales will take place on March 26, 27 and 28 at HAU1, Berlin.
Expatriarch: So, what’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening (laughter) …with the musical. First you announced it, then you said it got canceled, and now it’s back on again. So what happened actually?
Peaches: What happened was that we thought of the telling of the story as more like a concert. We thought it wasn’t necessary to get the actual rights to the production, and when the advertising started to happen, the affiliates who hold the rights to the production in Germany said that we hadn’t asked, and that they were not interested in this idea, and that they would not allow us to use one single piece of music from the production. As you know, Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera, meaning there is nothing but music!
So were they upset simply because you didn’t approach them first, or do you think it’s because you’re a bit controversial, overtly sexual, a woman playing Jesus? What’s your take?
I think when Jesus Christ Superstar came out in the first place, it was quite an unconventional approach and was probably blasphemous to some people, so it shouldn’t shock them that someone wants to give a new approach to it in 2010, in the same way they gave a new approach in the 70s – 40 years ago!
Right, because I was surprised doing a bit of research: the original album was banned by the BBC, the music was condemned by religious groups, and in the 90s, Amy Ray, the openly lesbian singer of the Indigo Girls, played the role of Jesus.
She did? I didn’t even know that. Fantastic.
My theory is that they’re just concerned you look sexier in a beard than Jesus does.
(Laughter) So I guess you followed the “tweets” or whatever – I wanted to do this musical and when I was told I can’t, and the theater said they don’t want to fight this because they want to have good relations with [the rights holders], I just decided to tweet this situation. I thought I’d use the catchy title of “PEACHES CHRIST SUPERSTAR CRUCIFIED BEFORE OPENING NIGHT!” And then give a quote of why I think it’s a shame that people don’t see it the way I do, with a fresh approach: just enjoying the music, instead of dressing it up with fancy costumes and money, money, money — which is sort of what the musical and the story is about.
Well yeah, on that note, in concert you’re known for pretty elaborate costumes and theatrics, and I was wondering how you are going to pull that off, being the only person performing the whole musical. Are you going to have costume changes? How are you going to differentiate the different roles?
This, to me, is a very stripped down production. As you know, Gonzales will be playing all the music on piano, and I will be singing every single part. I’m not interested in having elaborate sets or costume changes, or anything that would differentiate the characters. This is a demanding project where I strip down and just through the use of my voice, communicate the story.
Fair enough. And when you say “strip down”, you don’t mean your clothes, do you? (laughter)
(Laughter) I don’t, no. Although if it wasn’t controversial, that would be the way to go. But I don’t want that to take away from the performance, because people have such a problem with nudity, and that’s the reason I wouldn’t do it that way. And my body’s so great, I wouldn’t want it to distract people!
Sure! (laughter) On that note of Jesus and controversy, I was wondering if you heard that in February, Elton John made a public statement saying that Jesus was gay. Do you have any particular thoughts about that?
Yeah, I’m really trying to figure out why he said that. I don’t know if he’s just trying to make people more comfortable with the idea of being gay. He’s so powerful, and older, and he doesn’t need to be saying these things, so it’s pretty amazing that he would cause such a ruckus. And also, he knows that it’s going to shake up the pope and all religious groups. I don’t know if he really believes that Jesus was gay, or he’s just really frustrated with how people see gay people.