Emmy episode analysis: Brandon Victor Dixon (‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) brings huge theatre presence to small screen

After NBC aired its live production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in April, one name skyrocketed onto the Emmy radar: Brandon Victor Dixon. He’s best known for his stage work, including Tony-nominated turns in “The Color Purple” (2006) and “Shuffle Along” (2016) and a Tony win for producing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2014). But Dixon impressed TV critics and audiences alike with his performance as Judas Iscariot alongside household names John Legend as Jesus, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, and Alice Cooper as King Herod. For his performance, Dixon landed his career-first Emmy nomination for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actor.

Actors in the supporting categories for limited series submit episodes to Emmy judges just like actors in comedies and dramas do, but since “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a single one-night event Dixon is being considered for the whole production. “Superstar” focuses on Jesus’s final days, but even though Judas is considered a supporting character, much of the musical focuses on Judas’s perception of Jesus and hinges on his fateful decision to turn Jesus over to the high priests.

Will Brandon Victor Dixon’s memorable musical performance propel him to his first Emmy victory? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

SEE Brandon Victor Dixon (‘Jesus Christ Superstar’): ‘I’d definitely be open’ to doing another live TV musical [Complete Interview Transcript]


Dixon delivers a nuanced performance as Judas in his powerful renditions of some of the musical’s best-known songs. Dixon opens the show with the rousing “Heaven on Their Minds,” then voices Judas’s inner torment in “Damned For All Time / Blood Money,” in which Judas informs the high priests of Jesus’s location in order to facilitate his arrest. He sings a wrenching reprise of Mary Magdalene’s “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” And finally Judas kills himself in “Judas’ Death,” before dazzling with his falsetto in the musical’s title number, “Superstar.” While Dixon spends some of the musical on the sidelines, these songs span from the musical’s opening scene to its closing scene, ensuring that Dixon stays top of mind throughout the 140-minute running time.

Even though Dixon shines when performing these well-known songs, his best moments may be those that he performs in silence. After “Damned For All Time / Blood Money,” Dixon conveys the ambivalence and anguish of Judas’s decision without uttering a single word. Later, when Judas kisses Jesus’s cheek as a means of identifying Jesus to the Roman soldiers, Dixon and Legend’s performances perfectly encapsulate all of the tumult and affection of their relationship. In these instances in particular Dixon showcases his acting chops distinctly from his vocal prowess.

“Superstar” won Best Variety Special (Live) at the Creative Arts Emmys, so we already know the academy loved this production.

SEE Emmys 2018: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar: Live’ could break the awards curse of this landmark musical


Dixon may have a hard time triumphing over some of the Emmy heavyweights in this category. Jeff Daniels (“Godless”), who currently leads in Gold Derby’s combined odds, won an Emmy for “The Newsroom” in 2013 and has landed four more nominations since. In the past this category has often rewarded veteran actors like Tom Berenger (“Hatfields and McCoys,” 2012), James Cromwell (“American Horror Story: Asylum,” 2013) and Bill Murray (“Olive Kitteridge,” 2015). That could benefit Daniels or Michael Stuhlbarg (“The Looming Tower”) over Dixon.

In the last two years, though, the category has favored somewhat younger actors Sterling K. Brown (“The People v. O. J. Simpson,” 2016) and Alexander Skarsgard (“Big Little Lies,” 2017). While this could benefit Dixon, it could also tip the scales toward someone like Finn Wittrock (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”), an up-and-coming actor who already landed a previous Emmy bid in 2015 for “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” or Edgar Ramirez (“Versace”), who is around the same age as Brown and Skarsgard and has the benefit of playing the title role in his program.

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Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before winners are announced on September 17. Be sure to also predict winners for the Creative Arts ceremonies slated for September 8 and 9. And join in the fun debate over the 2018 Emmy taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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