"There is an honesty of character ... that allows him to be seen as a messianic figure," costume designer Paul Tazewell says of Legend
The Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner, 39, will play the title role in NBC’s upcoming Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert — and PEOPLE has an exclusive first look at him in costume.
In recent years, the network has broadcast several well-received live musical events, including Sound of Music Live, Peter Pan Live, The Wiz Live and Hairspray Live. This new iteration of Superstar — the Andrew Lloyd Webber-penned rock opera that made its Broadway debut in 1971 — will air on Easter Sunday, April 1 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
PEOPLE caught up with costume designer Paul Tazewell about the musical and how Legend will transform into Jesus Christ.
How does John embody the character of Jesus?
I believe there is an honesty of character and a generous openness that John inhabits quite naturally and that allows him to be seen as a messianic figure.
Did he help make any decisions in the design of his costumes?
John definitely offered his opinions in response to what David Leveaux and I had discussed, and we have always seemed to be on the same page together with how we envisioned his version of Jesus.
For more first looks, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
What vibe were you going for with the costumes in this production?
From the first design meeting with [director] David Leveaux it was pretty clear that he wanted our production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert to be a modern version. The costume design does have an urban dystopian quality while feeling hot and arid. I think the contemporary costumes stand well in contrast with the ancient architectural ruins which inform much of the scenic design.
What were your inspirations?
A lot of my inspiration for the costume design was the style that I see on the streets of New York City in order for the vocabulary of the costumes to stay modern. It is my job to distill the vast array of modern clothing styles into a world that feels cohesive. I looked at a good deal of modern fashion designers that reflected the patina of harsh modern city living as well as acknowledging the rock concert quality inherent in the musical. I also studied some of the dress of disenfranchised groups both here in the states and in the Middle East to arrive at a quality that felt real to the modern audience.
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How did previous Broadway and cinematic productions of the show inform these looks — and John’s?
I always try to attain an original look for a new production of a show different from what I have seen and hopefully from what I have done before in previous productions. That said there are similarities that are bound to occur because there are qualities of these characters that remain the same. I think the other versions of Jesus Christ Superstar have been absorbed into our universal culture and the audience will bring that with them as the watch our new telling.