BIGGER THAN JESUS
Back in 1966 John Lennon told a reporter that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” setting off a firestorm of protest in Christian America. Toronto actor Rick Miller uses that infamous phrase as the title of his one-man show, co-written with genius director Daniel Brooks. It explores the story of Jesus from Miller’s own skeptical, pop-cultural, lapsed Catholic perspective.
Part revisionist history lesson, part evangelical revival meeting, Bigger Than Jesus might very well offend the conventionally religious. But you’re not likely to find a smarter, funnier, or more theatrically imaginative treatment of the central Christian story than in what Miller calls his Church of Rational Thought.
The old saying that there’s no Catholic like a lapsed Catholic never held truer than in his case. Though he takes potshots at the Pope, the current processes of canonization, and even the authors of the gospels, Miller’s performance is steeped in religious ritual and awe.
His opening historical lecture is supported by clever video projection techniques which become increasingly more impressive as the evening progresses. He argues that “the crucifixion is a fiction,” that the gospel versions of Jesus’ life and death were written decades later for specific ideological purposes by men who weren’t there.
At that point the evening kicks into theatrical high gear. Miller reveals what a dynamic performer he is as he becomes a Southern revivalist preacher, rocking the audience with the command to “wake your Jesus up!” He takes us aboard Air Jesus on a doomed flight to Jerusalem where various passengers confront their morality and mortality.
In the show’s most memorable and hilarious sequence he re-stages The Last Supper on the floor, wittily choreographing little plastic toy figures that become life-size video projections on the screen behind him. Since, as he tells us, Star Wars was one of Jesus’ favourite movies, the disciples include Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi. And of course John Lennon.
Some people might remember MacHomer, Miller’s delightful one-man Fringe show in which he did the characters in The Simpsons performing all the parts in Macbeth. It’s still a wonderful surprise when Judas appears on the screen here played by a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser.
Miller then belts out a Jesus Christ Superstar-style screamer. The guy can sing, too.
In the show’s final coup we witness his stunning recreation of the crucifixion, prefaced by a projected sequence in which he carefully transforms himself into the long-haired, bearded, white-robed Jesus of paintings and movies, who leaves us with various pearls of his wisdom: love one another, turn the other cheek, always lift with your legs.
If you’re not afraid of a little heresy with your art, don’t miss this remarkable show.