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Music: Jesus Christ Superstar

Every time I look at you I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned;
Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation—
Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication!
...
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ! Who are You? What have You sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar, do You think You're what they say You are?

A Rock Opera and (subverted?) Passion Play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Originally released as a Concept Album in 1970, it made its way to the Broadway and London stage in 1971 and was filmed as a major movie in 1973. An updated version was recorded sometime around 2000 by Webber's Really Useful Group for PBS, and the show lives on in stage production and tours to this day. Inspired By certain sections of The Bible, it chronicles the last seven days of Jesus' life, focusing mainly on the characters of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. It's regarded among Andrew Lloyd Webber's best works. It's sort of a sequel to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, though this took a bit more liberty with the source material.

Depending on the production, the actors and settings in the show are portrayed with blends of modern and biblical-era clothing and motifs, running with the idea of Jesus being a rockstar-like figure (something not always appreciated by the Moral Guardians), the Apostles being counter-cultural radicals, and the Romans dressing in black leather and taking a Big Brother approach to running The Empire. The 2000 filmed version updates the visual metaphors. Specifically, setting it in a modern-day dystopic version of the Roman Empire with Nazi-esque guards, and Jesus' followers appear to be a street gang, seen toting submachine guns and assault rifles at times. The plot is pretty much the same, but with different things emphasized; Annas, for instance, appears in many more scenes than in the '73 version and in a very different light, the Ho Yay between Judas and Jesus is played up to the point of a Love Triangle with Mary Magdalene, and some other things.

Tropes:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends shortly after the death of Jesus with the rest of the cast simply boarding the bus; Pilate, Mary Magdalene and Judas (last of all) look back wistfully. The matter of the resurrection is left unclear.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Pontius Pilate is mildly campy and "theatrical" in many productions following the original, to the point of flanderization when Monty Python did it too.
    • This is probably due to the very flamboyant Barry Dennen, who created the role in the Concept Album, original stage production, and 1973 film.
    • King Herod, anyone?
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The 1973 film plays this up with King Herod of all people, adding an Ambiguously Jewish appearance (and, arguably, voice) to his stage-musical style song.
    • Might count as Fridge Brilliance, as the historical Herod was a thoroughly Romanized client king with connections to the imperial family.
  • Anachronism Stew: Some characters in the original film, like Mary Magdalene and Jesus, have decent costumes. Then you see the Roman guards, whose armor consists of purple tank tops, cargo pants, combat boots, AK 47s, and sticks. Other people for crowd scenes seemingly just walk onto the camera with whatever they're wearing.
  • Angrish: "Don’t believe — our good — save Him — if I could!"
  • Angry Black Man: Simon and Judas in the 1973 version. They have No Indoor Voice.
  • Anti-Villain
    • Judas, portrayed with sympathetic motivation throughout.
    • Pilate, as well, much as in the canonical gospels. (But not in Real Life.)
  • Because Destiny Says So
    Jesus: You have nothing in your hands. Any power you have comes to you from far beyond. Everything is fixed, and you can't change it.
  • Becoming the Mask: Jesus, according to Judas: "Jesus! You started to believe, the things they say of you. You really do BELIEVE this talk of God is true. And all the good you done, will soon get swept away: YOU begun to matter more, than the things you say."
    • Note that in the 1973 version, this song comes right after the scene where the hippie actors steps out of the van and put on their costumes to become the biblical characters.
  • Bigger Than Jesus: Er... Actually "bigger than Johnnote  was".
  • Big "NO!": Only in the 2000 film version
    Pilate: You're Herod's Race!
    Mary: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    Pilate: You're Herod's Case!
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The 2012 British Arena tour version has Herod's song, performed by Chris Moyles, be a Take That at ITV1 style Talent Shows replete with showing Herod's judgement of Jesus as a false god being based on TV viewer's votes. Guess how Ben Forster this version's Jesus was selected?
    • Used again in the Australian Arena Tour, with Herod now played by Andrew O'Keefe, host of the long running series Deal or No Deal, who essentially spends every minute on stage making fun of himself.
  • Blatant Lies: "It's not that I object to her profession..."
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: A wicked part in The Arrest:
    Crowds: Come with us to see Caiaphas!
    You'll just love the high priest's house!
    You'll just love seeing Caiaphas!
    You'll just die in the high priest's house!
    • Also, arguably, the way the last line of the chorus changes during Hosanna:
    Hey JC, JC, won't you smile at me?
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, you're all right by me.
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, won't you fight for me?
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, won't you die for me?
  • BSOD Song: Lines from Judas' Death and Gethsemane are the page quotes for the trope in question.
  • Buffy Speak: "...than John was when John did his baptism thing?"
  • Camp: Pilate is highly, shall we say, "exaggerated", especially in the 39 lashes.
  • Camp Gay: Herod, in many productions. In the 1973 film, he's practically an expy of Elton John.
    • Also subverted in some of these; it's a façade that he keeps to hide his actual accent.
      • In Real Life, Herod was a notorious womanizer, and the whole Camp Gay thing was something his detractors made up to discredit him. Thus, some productions (including the 2000 film) now portray Herod as a Seedy Hollywood Agent/1980s yuppie-type who seems to be tolerating Jesus' presence as a favor to a friend.
    • The 1996 London Cast Recording got Alice Cooper to sing the Herod song. Make of that what you will.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Jesus in "Gethsemane"
    • Judas in every song, especially as played by Carl Anderson.
    • Pilate in every song, really.
    • Justified in that this is a rock opera. Both Rock and Opera are known for not exactly being realist drama.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Simon gets an entire song dedicated to how he and the other hangers-on think Jesus is there to violently overthrow the Romans.
    • When the play caused controversy, a British clergyman attempted to defend it by urging people to overlook the long hair and beards (which were most likely historically correct) and instead listen to the lyrics (which, apparently unbeknownst to him, are often subversive to Christian beliefs).
  • Composite Character: Mary Magdalene in the musical's story combines elements of herself with that of Mary, the sister of Martha, whose "waste" of costly perfume on Jesus was derided by Judas.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: Pilate.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Judas regards himself as one at the end.
  • Darker and Edgier: In 1998, Webber said that he wanted to give a new design for the musical, saying that the funky disco and sequined leisure suits were fresh for its time, but he wanted to make it into something the younger people could relate to. When making the 2000 version he wanted it to be grittier and darker than the earlier versions.
  • Dark Reprise: Several. Both I Don't Know How to Love Him and Hosanna have dark reprises. When Jesus accuses his followers of not caring about him at the end of What's the Buzz, they answer with "No, you're wrong, how can you say that?" which is set to the same music used later for "Now we've got him, take him to Pilate." And meanwhile Damned For All Time/Blood Money, which wasn't pleasant to begin with, gets even worse the second time around.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Herod's clique in the 1973 version, Jesus' clique in the 2000 version. In both cases a Psychopathic Manchild surrounding himself with yes-men. In the 2000 case also rife with constant infighting, with Judas versus Mary and Jesus versus Simon trying to outmaneuver each other for power as the build-up for Judas betraying Jesus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Judas, in the 1973 version.
  • Doublespeak: It isn't blood money. It's a fee, nothing more. Right, Judas?
  • Downer Ending: The story ends after the crucifixion, so it can seem a bit depressing if you're unfamiliar with the supplementary materials.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: "Pilate's Dream"
    Then I saw thousands of millions crying for this man
    And then I heard them mentioning my name...and leaving me the blame.
  • Driven to Suicide: Judas, natch.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Last Supper." Also, "Overture", "Heaven on Their Minds", "What's the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying", and "Everything's Alright" are all performed as one extremely long song, clocking in at about 17 minutes (!)
  • Evil Is Hammy: Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, Annas.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Caiaphas, the high priest responsible for Jesus' trial, is usually a bass.
    • This is emphasized by pairing him with Annas, who's usually a countertenor (the highest voice type for a male).
  • Exact Words / Historical In-Joke:
    Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel! / You'll be remembered forever for this."
  • External Retcon: Retells the story from Judas's perspective.
  • Face Palm: Judas's reaction to Simon's song in the 2000 version.
    • Jesus at the start of Herod's song in the same version.
  • Faceless Goons: In the 2000 version, the Roman soldiers wear full-length coats and face-hiding helmets that have invited Darth Vader comparisons.
  • Fanservice: The 2000 filmed version has shirtless Pilate and dominatrix angels.
    • Not to mention the apostles in leather pants. And Jesus's tight cargo pants. And the entire temple scene.
    • In the seventies film version, the high priests all go shirtless. And Caiaphas is ripped.
    • The 1973 version also has a rare occurrence of male Absolute Cleavage, in the form of Judas' shirt.
    • On the female side, the 1973 version has prostitutes dancing provocatively in the Temple scene. Doubles as Fan Disservice because of the context and the stressful music.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a Passion Play. It Was His Sled territory by default.
  • Framing Device
  • Ghost Song: Judas comes back to sing the title song as Jesus is marched up to the crucifixion site. (See page quote).
  • God Test: Quoth Herod to Jesus, "Prove to me that you're no fool/Walk upon my swimming pool."
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The show's not quite subtle about its color palette. Jesus is always in white and khaki. Judas is in red and, especially after his betrayal, black. Mary Magdalene is usually in red, but changes to white for "Could We Start Again, Please?" The High Priests wear black. Pilate wears purple (which denotes royalty). The apostles are usually in greens and blues.
    • Oddly done in different ways in the movies. In the '70s, Judas returns as an angel, dressed all in white with a wing-like fringe on his arms. In the 2000 version, Judas and his backup are clad all in red leather, thus implying that he's a demon.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Jesus and Judas go up against each other in notes so high it would take a miracle to duplicate.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The High Priests and Pharisees.
  • Hippie Jesus: Christ and the Apostles as hippies.
    • Especially, of course, in the 1973 version. At one point, after Judas riles Jesus by suggesting he not spend time with ex-prostitutes, one of the followers says "Hey, cool it, man!"
  • Hippie Van: The cast arrive in vans and a schoolbus.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Inverted. The key individuals responsible for Jesus's death (Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate) are given much more sympathetic depictions than almost anywhere else. Herod's still a jerk, though.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mary Magdalene.
  • I Am A Humanitarian: Violently defied in the 2000 version of the last supper, as one of the apostles reacts with disgust against the food while Jesus sings "this is my blood you drink, this is my body you eat". (The 1973 version doesn't bring up cannibalistic interpretations of the lyrics at all.)
  • Ignored Epiphany: Pilate's dream.
  • Informed Ability: In the 1973 version only, there is no basis for the claim that Maria Magdalene is the kind of person who is calm and cool and running every show. (The 2000 version has the same lyrics, but the character now fit with them.)
  • I Want My Mommy: Jesus, in the 2000 version only: "Where is my mother? WHERE IS MY MOTHER?!"
  • Incredibly Long Note: The climactic Metal Scream ("See... how... I... DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEE") in "Gethsemane" can fall under this. The champion is probably Steve Balsamo, from the 1996 London cast; on the soundtrack album, he holds the note a full twenty seconds.
  • Jerkass God: While ultimately heroic as always (assuming his death counted for something in the end, which here is debatable), this version of Jesus is hardly the image of Incorruptible Pure Pureness most people are used to seeing. He screams at people to leave him alone, takes a nihilistic point of view a distressing number of times, and at one point is cuttingly sarcastic to his own followers:
    Jesus: For all you care / This wine could be my blood / For all you care / This bread could be my body.
    • Jesus sees his Father as this as well, demanding to know during the "Gethsemane" song what justice there could be in his having to die and receiving no answer. By the end of the song he is quite bitter, and sulkily tells the Father to send the mob to arrest him "before I change my mind."
    • Could actually be justified in Jesus' case, when you think about it. After all, when someone knows that they have to give their life up for the greater good but doesn't feel ready for it at all, while also being surrounded by fair-weather disciples and enemies who are hell-bent on killing them just because of their teachings (and the fact that they claim to be the Messiah), could anyone blame the person for being more than frustrated later on? If anything, this complex portrayal of Jesus serves to show the audience that he's more than just God on Earth; he's a fleshed-out individual who is just as human as he is divine.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: Jesus Christ Superstar is (among other things) built like a point-counterpoint debate regarding who and what Jesus was. While Mary Magdalene and the apostle Simon represent two very different versions of Jesus Was Way Cool, Pontius Pilate goes down the Jesus Was Crazy road - trying to defend Jesus by arguing that he's insane. See page quote.
    • Note that the "cool vs crazy" debate is not about being for or against Jesus. Pilate is trying to save him, while Caiaphas, who is trying to get him crucified, subscribes to the "Jesus is cool" camp. In the initial scene, Judas is still loyal to Jesus, and yet complains about how Jesus is turning increasingly mentally unstable under the pressure from his believers.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Even Caiaphas is impressed.
    Caiaphas: One thing I'll say for him, Jesus is cool.
    • The 2000 version instead has this line by a nameless priest as part of it's...significantly lessened ambiguity:
    Priest: Infantile sermons, the multitude drools!
  • Kangaroo Court: All three of Jesus's trials; at the hands of Caiaphas, Herod and Pontius.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During "Simon Zealotes" in the 1973 film version, Roman soldiers can be seen gathering to observe the commotion. Judas is also in the background, visibly disturbed by the events before storming off during the next song, "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Medium Awareness: When Jesus is being taken to trial, one of his fans confidently shouts, "You'll escape in the final reel!" Unfortunately ...
  • Metal Scream: Inspired by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple (as Jesus) and Murray Head (as Judas) on the original Concept Album. Ted Neely (as Jesus) and Carl Anderson, an understudy for Ben Vereen (as Judas) became famous for the roles on stage and film, since Gillan and Head had become too successful as musicians to perform, and duplicating their vocal range can be quite difficult for other actors. Interestingly, Murray Head is not black; Ben Vereen and subsequently Carl Anderson pioneered that idea, in no small part because Anderson simply had the voice for the notes.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Jesus and Judas in the 1973 film.
  • Mood Whiplash: A disturbing amount for a religion-based story. The juxtaposition of Mary Magdalene's sweet Crapsaccharine World anthem "Everything's Alright" with Judas's angry accusations against her probably qualifies. An even better example is the jarring shift (at least on the concept album) from King Herod's comical music-hall number to Judas's histrionic reaction to seeing the scourging of Jesus.
  • Movie Bonus Song: An unusual example. While many film versions of stage musicals include an original Award Bait Song, the only new song featured is the short Villain Song between Annas and Caiaphas, "Then We Are Decided."
    • "Could We Start Again, Please?" is often mistaken for one of these by fans of the original album. However, it was actually added for the original Broadway production a few years before the movie.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hoo boy. Judas does not take this whole betrayal thing well.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Extremely pronounced. This and Hair are probably the most New-Age Retro Hippie plays that exist. Not really "retro" when the film / play / soundtrack was first produced, but Jesus' followers are portrayed as counter-cultural hippies and Judas and the Zealots are portrayed as members of the New Left. This is especially pronounced in the film.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Herod in the 2000 version is Florenz Ziegfeld.
  • No Indoor Voice: Judas (in the style of Carl Anderson, at least).
  • Oh Crap: In the 2000 version, Jesus, Mary, and Judas all make this face at each other after the crowd in "Hosanna" sings its final line.
    • Also in the 2000 version, when Jesus is tied down on the cross and turns his head to see one soldier hand the other a nail.
  • Ominous Multiple Screens: In the 2000 version, the High Priests have these in their boardroom, switching on to show Jesus and his adoring crowds as the "Hosanna" chorus starts.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The High Priests and Pharisees.
  • Only Sane Man: Judas, at least from his perspective, likewise Caiaphas from his, and Pilate from his.
  • Original Cast Precedent: The high Metal Scream in almost every version of Gethsemane? Not written in the sheet music. Just the basic melody and an ad-libbed note.
  • Passion Play
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • FOOLS! YOU! HAVE NO PERCEPTION!
    • WHAT! DO! YOU MEAN. BY. THAT? THAT WAS NOT. AN ANSWER!
  • Prophecy Twist
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Varying with the versions.
    • In the 1973 version only, Herod is this. Jesus is not - although some of his lyrics point in this direction, he is still portrayed as a dignified and compassionate person on the whole.
    • In the 2000 version, Jesus is portrayed in a quite different light, putting him squarely in the Psychopathic Manchild category - same lyrics, different body language and facial expressions and so on. For example, the scene where Simon sings about power and glory and Jesus comes back about how Simon and the others don't understand what power and glory is. In the 1973 version, Jesus looks dignified and genuinely sad over the apostle's shallow understanding. In the 2000 version, Jesus looks jealous, with an attitude of "How dare you steal my show! I'm the prophet here, not you! Me, me, me!" Which comes across as especially petty as Simon just led a counterstrike that pushed back a roman attack, arguably saving Jesus and the others.
  • Putting on the Reich: In the 2000 version, Pilate's uniform is purposefully reminiscent of the Gestapo.+
    • In the Moscow stage production, the High Priests first appear in riot gear and then perform a song to the tune of "This Jesus Must Die" dressed in black suits with red Soviet armbands.
  • The Queen's Latin: Pilate.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Done literally by Jesus in "Gethsemane," and Judas in "Judas' Death."
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The story of Jesus... IN THE SEVENTIES!
    • Or the story of Jesus... in the ghetto and coated in Ho Yay!
    • Or in the UK 2012 Arena tour... in Occupy London!
  • Refrain from Assuming: The opening song that Judas sings is "Heaven on Their Minds," not "Listen Jesus" or any variation thereupon.
    • Jesus' Heroic BSOD Song is simply "Gethsemane," not "I Only Want To Say," though it is sometimes called "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)."
    • The finale is simply "Superstar," not "Jesus Christ Superstar."
  • The Resenter: Judas.
  • Royal Brat: Herod.
  • Rule of Cool: The new stage adaptation runs on this. For example, during the performance of Pilate's Dream, Pilate is surrounded by government officials who move in slow motion, then speed up, Zack Snyder-style. On stage.
  • Scenery Porn: Norman Jewison really took advantage of filming in Israel for the first film.
  • Screw Destiny: Both Judas and Jesus are sorely tempted to try this, but both succumb to You Can't Fight Fate for different reasons.
    Judas: You want me to do it! What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition? Christ, you deserve it!
  • Shaming the Mob: Pilate lambasts the mob screaming for Jesus to be crucified, since he sees Jesus as a harmless crazy man being used as a scapegoat by the mob for the revolutionary rumblings his presence set off. Nearly half of Pilate's final song is calling the crowd hypocrites and pointing out the Disproportionate Retribution they're forcing him to deal to Jesus.
    Pilate: I see no reason! I find no evil! This man is harmless, so why does he upset you?! He's just misguided! Thinks he's important! But to keep you vultures happy I will flog him!
  • Shaped Like Itself: "You liar! You Judas!"
  • Shout-Out: In the 1973 film, when Jesus and the twelve apostles sit down for The Last Supper, they all freeze for a moment in the exact poses depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of The Last Supper. Movie fans have used this scene to identify exactly which actors are playing which apostles, since not all of them are identified by name in the film.
  • Silent Credits: In the 1973 film. Considering it's a musical, the effect is somewhat unnerving.
  • Sissy Villain: Some portrayals of Herod.
  • Skyward Scream: Several, usually combined with Epic Rocking and Milking the Giant Cow.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Depending on the production, the entire message of the play can be changed. The songs and script themselves are just general enough to paint Jesus or Judas as the protagonist to root for. Jesus can vary between being well, a pretty nice guy, to a snob who's all talk, or whether or not he is even actually the son of God. To this day people still aren't sure whether the play was intended to give a family friendly Christian story, or whether it was made to cast a more jaded light on it.
  • Slut Shaming: Judas doesn't believe that Mary Magdalene (or "women of her kind") is an appropriate companion for Jesus.
  • Something We Forgot
  • Soprano and Gravel: Frequently used with Annas and Caiaphas, especially as performed by Kurt Yaghjian and Bob Bingham in the 1973 version.
  • Stealth Pun: Some particularly clever ones.
    • Not least the entirety of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" which, if listened to properly, is a song consisting almost entirely of innuendo.
    • Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel!"
    • Judas:(considering not betraying Jesus) "Christ, you deserve it!"
  • Suicide by Cop: Arguably, Jesus (in this story only). He knows he has to die to achieve what God wants, Pilate begs him to save himself, but he forces Pilate's hand as much as the mob does.
  • Summon Backup Dancers: Simon Zealotes does this. In the film, they appear out of thin air as the music kicks in.
    • Jesus also has this ability.
  • Take This Job And Shove It: Pilate spends the entire show (and many of the lyrics of the First and Second Trials) hating his job. One can hardly blame him when he finally throws in the towel.
    Pilate: I wash my hands of your demolition! Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!
  • A Taste of the Lash: The 39 lashes... in song. Although, in the 2000 version, Pilate gradually loses his composure as he counts out each lashing; by the mid-twenties, he's visibly flinching.
  • They Just Dont Get It: The entire point of the song "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Caiaphas and Annas.
  • Uncommon Time: "Everything's Alright" is in 5/4.
    • "The Temple" is in 7/4.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Judas' Death. This is what all other breakdown tropes want to be when they grow up. It is the God of character meltdowns.
  • Villain Song: "This Jesus Must Die" and "King Herod's Song."
    • Also "We Are Decided" in the movie. Also virtually every song sung by Judas (with a few exceptions) are Villain Songs, even if he is an Anti-Villain.
  • Voice Types: Jesus, Judas, Simon Zealotes and King Herod are tenors. Mary Magdalene is an alto. Pilate and Peter are baritones. Caiaphas is a bass. Annas is a countertenor, unless you cross-cast, in which case s/he is usually a mezzo-soprano. Other productions, such as the 1996 London cast, simply drop his lines down an octave, making him a baritone.
  • World of Ham: Israel in 33 AD.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jesus and Judas.
    • Arguably, Caiaphas, who thinks that Jesus is a pretty cool guy, but feels that he has to have him killed to prevent him from stirring up revolution and provoking retaliation from Rome. When Judas is having his BSOD, Caiaphas comforts him, saying that his actions have saved Israel.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: One of the main themes (along with all the Ho Yay). Jesus, Judas, Pilate and even Peter struggle to escape the roles that have been written for them, or at least to pass/pin the blame for their part on someone else, but to no avail. God will have His martyr, His betrayer(s), and His bloody, horrible ending.


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alternative title(s): Jesus Christ Superstar
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