John Legend (center, left) as Jesus Christ and Sara Bareilles (center, right) as Mary Magdalene, with cast and crew (photo courtesy NBC Universal)

True Life: I Performed on NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar"

With musicals like Hairspray, Grease, Peter Pan, and The Wiz earning prime-time spots on big networks, complete with celebrity-studded casts and flashy new choreography, there's no question that live TV musicals are here to stay. But what's it actually like to perform in one? We followed dancer Conor Ryan during the rehearsal process for Jesus Christ Superstar, which aired on NBC on Easter Sunday, to get the inside scoop. The show, starring John Legend and Sara Bareilles, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, got lots of buzzy reviews. —Courtney Bowers

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Courtesy Ryan

It's the first day on set at the New York State Armory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This place is massive! We just had a sound check today, but I also got to spy my new dressing station.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ryan with Legend (courtesy Ryan)

It's officially one week until the show! Our first rehearsal today on the gorgeous, gargantuan set has presented a whole new set of obstacles, from sand to fire to spray paint. But John Legend is back with us from a three-week album tour, and with Jesus leading us, we're up for anything.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Today was our longest rehearsal yet (9 am to 10:30 pm), and our bodies are really feeling it. The week ahead feels intimidating, but we burned through a major tech portion of the show.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Today's our first rehearsal in full costume. Suddenly the Armory feels a whole lot colder…

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thank goodness for our physical therapist! Our choreographer, Camille A. Brown, has pushed us to be the absolute best we can be, which means we climb, we slide, we jump, we run, we fight, we fall. And sometimes we hurt.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

We're starting to move from exhaustion to excitement as we enter into the home stretch. No physical therapy today, but we had an ear, nose, and throat doctor visit. It's extremely important that we take good care of ourselves now, especially since the set can be a bit messy.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ryan (left) during a dress rehearsal (courtesy NBC Universal)

Tonight's our first dress rehearsal! What a huge difference it makes to have a live audience watching the show. We only had a few hundred guests filling the mosh pit, but the love was overwhelming.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Today is our final dress rehearsal. We're taking what we learned with the small audience last night and adjusting it to fit a full house of over 1,200 people. We've got to pay close attention to the last-minute changes we made after last night and the effects of the enormous energy in the room today. We're also locking in the final hair and makeup looks.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

It's Easter Sunday, the day we finally get to share this Jesus Christ Superstar with the world. I'm so proud of what we've created and am honored to have gotten to be a small part of it. We arrived in the early afternoon for the pre-show warm-up and a few words from our fearless leader, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Then we got makeup and hair done, put our costumes on, and got our mic and in-ear monitors ready, before a little more warm-up. They called "Places" and we waited underneath the risers that held our screaming audience, taking deep breaths. And then, "in 5, 4, 3, 2…," we were live!

Ryan (center) with castmates, waiting underneath the risers for the live show to start (courtesy Ryan)

During the show, entire musical numbers seemed to occur in the blink of an eye. As a loyal theater geek, I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank goodness for the commercial breaks! What we feared would be disruptive, energy- and momentum-killing pauses turned out to be opportunities to catch our breath, stretch, and process the next steps before flying full-steam ahead. My friends in the audience also got a kick out of seeing me shrug off the character and goof off, or run steps with my castmates before we were back on air.

After the live telecast, the rush of achievement knowing we made it through was amazing. And it was a thrill to dance and celebrate the night away at John Legend's afterparty. I woke up wondering if it all had actually happened. Thankfully, there's actual footage to prove that, yes, I really did that!

A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "#BTS of a Live TV Musical."

Latest Posts

Because there's never been a better time to binge-watch "Bunheads" (via Freeform)

5 of the Danciest TV Shows Streaming Right Now (and Where to Stream Them)

We're about two months into #SocialDisDancing, and let's be real—while we all wish we were spending every spare minute stretching, cross-training, or taking online classes, sometimes we just need to Netflix and chill.

We figure, if you're going to be watching TV anyways, why not make it dancy TV? After all, watching pros dance on-screen is basically dance class homework...or at least we'll say it is. Here are five of the danciest TV shows for you to watch—and where to find them.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
The cast of Center Stage in a promotional poster (courtesy Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Making of "Center Stage," as Remembered by Its Dance Stars

Whether you first watched it in a theater two decades ago or on Netflix last week, odds are you feel a deep connection to Center Stage. The cult classic, which premiered May 12, 2000, is arguably the greatest dance film ever made. (Dance obsessives might take issue with the "cult" before "classic," not to mention the "dance" before "film.") Jody Sawyer's ballet journey—which combines oh-wow-I've-had-those-blisters realism with wait-does-she-have-magic-color-changing-pointe-shoes fantasy—stands the test of time, early-aughts fashion be darned. We've memorized its highly quotable lines, laughed with (and, gently, at) its heroes, and been inspired by its sincere love of dance and dancers.

To celebrate Center Stage's 20th anniversary, we asked five of its dance stars to talk through their memories of the filming process. Here are their stories of on-set bonding, post-puke kissing scenes, and life imitating art imitating life.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

2020 Dance Grads: We Want to Put You on Our Cover!

Hello, all you members of the great Dance Class of 2020. With the world on lockdown, this hasn't been the graduation season you expected. You likely weren't able to go to prom; your commencement ceremonies have probably been delayed or canceled; and you might not have been able to take your planned-for final bow onstage.

Since you're missing out on so much, we'd like to give you a virtual ovation, to recognize all you've accomplished. And what's the highest honor we can bestow? The cover of Dance Spirit!

Here's the plan:

  • If you're a high school or college senior dancer, use this form to submit your information and dance portrait.
  • Each day during the month of May, we'll create a digital Dance Spirit cover starring one of you, chosen at random—31 covers in total.
  • At the end of the month, we'll create a "commencement video" featuring even more of your submitted dance photos.
  • 100 of you, selected by lottery, will also receive free one-year subscriptions to the print magazine.

Merde, 2020 graduates, as you dance your way into the future!

High School and College Senior Dancers: Submit Your Photo Here

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search