The Muppets have proven to be as resilient a concept as there is in Hollywood: You can put them in sincere adventures about the power of friendship, you can wink at the audience by getting them to sing Flight Of The Conchords-style songs drenched in irony, you can cast them as characters from Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson–it doesn’t really matter. Muppets + anything = cheese + tomato sauce.
That’s something that’s been stretched to the limits by musician Christo Graham, who decided to blend his love of Jesus Christ Superstar with his ability to convincingly mimic most Muppet voices in a mash-up project called, naturally, Muppet Christ Superstar. The work casts Kermit (naturally) as Jesus, Miss Piggy as Mary Magdelene, and–perhaps in a controversial move–Gonzo as Judas.
The result is fascinating, and kind of disconcerting–more like cheese and Chinese food–but Graham wisely limits the number of songs he picks to cover Muppet-style, in order to avoid burning out the fascination that his project inspires. (Though we wouldn’t have minded hearing the cranky guys in the balcony run through “This Jesus Must Die.”)
Maybe it’s the fact that, even when the Muppets are knowingly winking at the audience–whether it’s alongside Steve Martin or Jermaine Clement–there’s an innocence to the characters that makes them eternally lovable. It’s hard to countenance those Muppets with the idea of Gonzo selling Kermit to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver and subsequently committing suicide, while Kermit is nailed to a cross.
Still, Graham’s voices are mostly very good–though his interpretation of “King Herod’s Song” makes clear why the Rowlf has mostly been retired since Jim Henson’s passing–and the tradition of the Muppets playing both themselves and other characters, as in Muppets Christmas Carol and Muppets Treasure Island, is a well-established one. At the very least, Muppet Christ Superstar tells us where to draw the line on this stuff.