'Jesus Christ Superstar' Banned in Belarus Over Lent Outrage

Andrew Lloyd Webber's controversial "Jesus Christ Superstar" rock opera, first produced more than 40 years ago, is still stirring controversy with recent performances banned in Belarus.

The Eastern European nation, where the Belarusian Orthodox Church dominates the religious landscape, first allowed the rock opera into the country for a tour in a number of cities – but almost all shows have since been canceled after "outraged" church members complained of the perceived blasphemous nature of the story, RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency reported. Apparently, believers had been especially angered that a performance of the show was scheduled for March 4, the first Sunday of Lent.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is loosely based on the Gospel, and features Jesus and Judas Iscariot as the two main characters. The play focuses on ideological conflicts between the two figures and loosely interprets the Bible to spin a largely fictional story, which often does not sit well with some conservative believers. First staged on Broadway in 1971, it has attracted its fair share of controversy over the years, and has even been banned in some countries.

"Due to the aggressive position, taken by a number of leaders of the Orthodox dioceses in Belarus, the play was banned in several cities of the tour," states the St. Petersburg Theatre in Homel, where one of the performances was scheduled to take place. Other cities where the rock opera was banned include Gomel, Mogilyov, and the capital, Minsk.

"Christians never blow up anything, which is why they can be used for boosting one's self-esteem on their account," explained Nikolai Tarasenko, a monk from Gomel, in an editorial in Belarussian edition of the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. Confusion still surrounds who ordered the ban – the theater suggests that government officials told them they can not stage the show, while authorities have apparently said the St. Petersburg Theatre decided it was best to cancel the show and not cause further strife with the Orthodox community.

"We can't understand why thousands of spectators have been denied the right to attend performances and make their own opinion about the spiritual content of the performance, which has long occupied a prominent place in world culture," the statement by the St. Petersburg Theatre said.

The only Belarusian city to allow the performance was Brest, but even there the rock opera was not too well attended, reported. "Orpheus and Eurydice," a Greek play, was the show chosen to replace "Jesus Christ Superstar."

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