1 of 2 | Sara Bareilles (L) and John Legend will be seen starring in "Jesus Christ Superstar" on NBC Sunday. Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC
March 30 (UPI) -- Singer-songwriter John Legend says he and his castmates have been focusing on the positive message of their show as they prepare for Easter Sunday's live staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bible-based musical Jesus Christ Superstar for NBC.
Rehearsal time spent alongside Sara Bareilles, Alice Cooper, Norm Lewis, Ben Daniels and Brandon Victor Dixon has included learning music, cues and direction, then "taking on the character and making it feel like it is seamless and natural," Legend told reporters during a recent roundtable interview in New York.
"We talk about love every day. We talk about what Jesus' message of love meant and what it means even through conflict with Judas. Even through the doubt and through fear that he had in fulfilling his mission, the overriding message was love and, so, we try to think about that every day," said Legend, a 39-year-old Grammy, Tony and Oscar winner.
Legend said people can still find grace in Jesus' message.
"His message was disruptive at the time," Legend said. "It was about disrupting the status quo. It was about looking out for the poor. It was about extending grace to people who previously may have been forgotten or cast aside and so, hopefully, that message still stays with us and is timeless and we can apply it to the way we see the world now."
Legend has been outspoken on today's political climate, calling President Donald Trump a racist for his comments denigrating immigrants from Africa and supporting NFL players who refused to stand for the national anthem to protest social injustice.
Asked what Jesus would say to Trump and his administration about their policies, Legend laughed and said: "I don't think [Jesus'] first call would be to lower taxes for people as wealthy as I am. I don't think that was central to his message."
Legend said he and his pregnant wife, Chrissy Teigen, try to use their fame to improve the world around them, frequently choosing charities, initiatives and people to support after learning about their efforts through the media.
"We donate to a lot of things. A lot of times, it's just things we find out about on Twitter or on the news," he said. For example, they helped finance the young organizers of this month's March for Our Lives, a demonstration to support gun safety.
He said he also does a lot of work with an eye toward ending mass incarceration and enacting criminal justice reform.
"We have an organization called Free America that is devoted to that and then we have a program that is focused on empowering teachers and giving them better resources to be the best they can be for our kids; that's called LRNG. So, we spend a lot of time working on that, too," he said.
The Ohio native -- whose musical-theater acting experience has, until now, been limited to supporting parts in high-school productions of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Fiddler on the Roof and Big River -- said he is excited to play the lead in such a high-profile project as Jesus Christ Superstar.
"It's an iconic role," he said. "Set aside the fact that Jesus Christ has inspired people for thousands of years, but even the show itself is iconic as an early rock opera album that eventually became a live theater production. It's meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time and, so, I feel like we have an awesome responsibility to do right by this material,"
Asked if he and his busy spouse, a model and TV personality who can be seen on Lip Sync Battle, decided together that he should accept this job offer, Legend replied: "My wife is excited to spend a couple of weeks in New York. We had been talking about possibly moving back here, so this is like a trial run."
"We thought it would be a cool little family trip to come to New York for a little while," Legend said about Teigen and their 2-year-old daughter, Luna.