Jesus Christ Superstar
|Jesus Christ Superstar|
Album cover for the 1970 American release of Jesus Christ Superstar
|Music||Andrew Lloyd Webber|
Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical started as a rock opera concept album before its first staging on Broadway in 1971. The musical is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not in the Bible narratives.
The work's depiction offers a free interpretation of the psychology of Jesus and the other characters. A large part of the plot focuses on the character of Judas, who is depicted as a tragic figure dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples. Contemporary attitudes and sensibilities, as well as slang, pervade the lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly feature many intentional anachronisms.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Principal roles
- 3 Musical numbers
- 4 From album to stage
- 5 Recordings and broadcasts
- 6 Films
- 7 Awards and nominations
- 8 Further reading
- 9 References
- 10 External links
After a foreboding instrumental opening number ("Overture"), the apostle Judas Iscariot expresses in a musical monologue his concern over Jesus's rising popularity as a "king" and the negative repercussions that will have. He strongly criticizes Jesus for accepting his followers's unrealistic views, and for not heeding his concerns ("Heaven on Their Minds"). While Judas still loves Jesus, he believes that Jesus is just a man, not God, and worries that Jesus's following will be seen as a threat to the Roman Empire which would then punish both Jesus and his associates. Judas's warning falls on deaf ears, as Jesus's followers have their minds set on going to Jerusalem with Jesus. As they ask Jesus when they will be going to Jerusalem, Jesus tells them to stop worrying about the future, since whatever will happen is determined by God ("What's the Buzz?").
Recognizing that Jesus is irritated by the badgering and lack of understanding from his followers, Mary Magdalene tries to help Jesus relax. Judas is concerned that Jesus is associating with a woman of "her profession", which is implied as prostitution in the Bible. It seems to Judas that Jesus is contradicting his own teaching, and he worries that this apparent lack of judgment will be used against Jesus and his followers ("Strange Thing Mystifying"). Jesus tells Judas that Mary is with him (Jesus) now, and unless Judas is without sin he should not judge the character of others. Jesus then reproaches his apostles for being "shallow, thick and slow" and somewhat bitterly answers that not a single one of them cares about him. Mary Magdalene tries to assure Jesus that everything is alright while anointing him with oil ("Everything's Alright"). Judas angrily insists that the money used to obtain the oil should have been used to help the poor instead. Jesus sadly explains that he and his followers do not have the resources to alleviate poverty and that they should be glad for the privileges they have. He claims that once his followers no longer have him, they will lose their path.
Meanwhile, Caiaphas (the high priest), Annas, and other Jewish priests (who have been studying Jesus's movements) meet to discuss Jesus and his disciples. Jesus's growing following consists of Jews unwilling to accept the Romans as their rulers, and the priests believe that Jesus may become seen as a threat to the priesthood's integrity and the Roman Empire. If the Romans retaliate, many Jews will suffer, even those who are not following Jesus. Caiaphas tells them they are "fools" for not seeing the inevitable consequence of Jesus's activities. He believes there could be great bloodshed and the stakes are "frighteningly high!" For the greater good, he has to "crush him completely! So like John before him, this Jesus must die!" Annas and the other priests concur ("This Jesus Must Die"). As Jesus and his followers arrive exultantly in Jerusalem they are confronted by Caiaphas, who demands that Jesus disband them, which Jesus says would be futile and change nothing. As the crowd cheers him on, Caiaphas suddenly asks, "Hey JC, JC, won't you die for me?" To this, Jesus visibly reacts with concern ("Hosanna"). Jesus is approached by Simon the Zealot, who suggests that Jesus lead his mob in a war against Rome and gain absolute power ("Simon Zealotes"). Jesus rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understand what true power is, nor do they understand his true message ("Poor Jerusalem").
Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, has had a dream, in which he meets with a Galilean (Jesus) and that he, Pilate, will receive all of the blame for the man's violent and mournful death ("Pilate's Dream"). Jesus arrives at the Temple in Jerusalem and finds that it has become a haven of sin and debauchery as it is being used for selling everything from weapons to prostitutes and drugs. He is furious and demands that the merchants and money changers leave ("The Temple"). Angry, disconsolate, and tired by his burden, Jesus rests and falls asleep. In a chilling nightmare, he is confronted by lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed. Even though he heals some, their number increases, and he is overwhelmed. Unable to solve everyone's problems, Jesus tells the crowd to heal themselves. He awakes to find Mary Magdalene by his side. She lays him to rest ("Everything's Alright (Reprise)"). While Jesus is asleep, Mary acknowledges that she is unconditionally in love with Jesus, unlike any man she has known before, and it frightens her ("I Don't Know How to Love Him").
Judas gradually becomes more and more envious of Mary; he believes she has usurped him as Jesus's most trusted ally and that he prefers her to his Apostles. Conflicted, Judas seeks out the priests and promises to help them capture Jesus, while belaboring that he is acting with unselfish motives and that Jesus himself would approve if he knew those motives; he bids the priests not declare him damned. Caiaphas demands that Judas reveal the location of Jesus so that the authorities can apprehend him. In exchange for the information, Judas is offered money as a "fee" so that he can assuage his conscience by using the money charitably ("Damned for All Time/Blood Money"). Judas decides that it would be better to turn Jesus in before his popularity leads to the deaths of Jesus and his followers, Judas included. He reveals that on Thursday night, Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane.
At what Jesus knows will be the Last Supper, he pours wine and passes bread for his apostles ("The Last Supper"). Very aware of the ordeal he faces, he is stung when the others pay little attention to him; "For all you care this wine could be my blood / For all you care this bread could be my body," he remarks, alluding to (and anticipating) the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist. He asks them to remember him when they eat and drink; he predicts that Peter will deny him three times "in just a few hours" and that one of them will betray him. Judas, believing that Jesus already knows ("cut the dramatics, you know very well who"), admits he is the one and angrily accuses Jesus of acting recklessly and egotistically. Claiming he does not understand Jesus's decisions, he leaves to bring the Roman soldiers.
The remaining apostles fall asleep, and Jesus retreats to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray ("Gethesemane (I Only Want to Say)"). He admits to God his doubts, fears and anger, that he is tired and has done all he can. He asks powerfully if any of it has meaning and implores God not let him suffer the horrible death that portends for him. He feels disillusioned with his quest as the Messiah, does not understand what it has achieved and wishes to give up. Receiving no answer, Jesus realizes that he cannot defy God's will, and surrenders to God. His prayer ends with a request that God take him immediately, "before I change my mind."
Judas arrives with Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus by kissing him on the cheek ("The Arrest"). Jesus is arrested, and his apostles attempt to fight the soldiers. Jesus tells them to let the soldiers take him to Caiaphas. On the way, a mob (acting like—and sometimes represented as—modern-day news reporters) asks Jesus what he plans to do, but Jesus declines to comment. When Jesus is brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas asks if he is the son of God. Jesus responds: "That's what you say, you say that I am." This answer is affirmative according to Jewish custom, and that provides enough justification for the high priests to send Jesus to Pontius Pilate. Meanwhile, Jesus's apostle Peter is confronted by an old man, a soldier and a maid, and Peter denies to each that he knows Jesus ("Peter's Denial"). Mary asks Peter why he denied Jesus, and Peter responds that he had to do it in order to save himself. Mary wonders how Jesus knew that Peter would deny him three times.
Pilate asks Jesus if he is the son of God. Jesus gives the same answer that he gave Caiaphas: "that's what you say." Since Jesus is from Galilee, Pilate says that he is not under his jurisdiction and sends him to King Herod ("Pilate and Christ"). As Jesus is dragged away, the chorus asks, where Jesus's power has gone. The decadent and flamboyant King Herod asks Jesus to prove his divinity by performing miracles, offering to free him if he complies; but Jesus ignores him ("King Herod's Song (Try It And See)"). Herod decides that Jesus is just another phony messiah and angrily sends him back to Pilate. The apostles and Mary Magdalene remember when they first began following Jesus, and wish that they could return to a time of peace ("Could We Start Again, Please?")
Judas is horrified upon beholding Jesus's harsh treatment by the authorities. Feeling extreme guilt for this, and panicking that he will be seen as responsible, Judas expresses regret to the priests, fearing he will forever be remembered as a traitor. Caiaphas and Annas say that what he has done will save everyone and that he should not feel remorse for his actions before throwing him out of their temple. Left alone, recognition dawns that memories of this could haunt the rest of his life, that God chose him to be the one to betray Jesus, and that he has been used as a pawn for the "foul bloody crime!" He suffers a mental breakdown during the epiphany, cursing God for his manipulative ways, and in a final attempt to detach himself from his destiny, he commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree ("Judas's Death").
At Jesus's trial Pilate asks the crowd if they would crucify Jesus, their king, and they declare: "We have no king but Caesar!"  Pilate remembers the dream he had about the crowd and the unjust execution of Jesus. Pilate tells the crowd that, while Jesus should be imprisoned, he does not deserve to die. Pilate demands that the crowd give him a reason to condemn Jesus, and the crowd breaks into a pep rally-style cheer about how Jesus is a blasphemer and has defied Rome. After revealing Jesus as nothing more than a pathetic human being ("Behold the man!"), Pilate calls the crowd hypocrites, as he knows they hate Roman rule. He attempts to satisfy their bloodlust by having Jesus whipped, counting thirty-nine bloody strokes ("Trial Before Pilate, (Including The Thirty-Nine Lashes)"). Pilate, clearly disturbed by the whole ordeal, pleads with Jesus to defend himself; but Jesus says weakly that everything has been determined, by God, and Pilate cannot change it. The crowd still screams for Jesus to be crucified, and Pilate recalls his duty to keep the peace. He reluctantly agrees to crucify Jesus to keep the crowd from getting violent. Pilate then washes his hands of Jesus's death: "I wash my hands of your demolition! Die if you want to, you--innocent puppet...."
As Jesus prepares to be crucified, he is mocked by a vision of Judas. Judas questions why Jesus chose to arrive in the manner and time that he did, and if what happened to him was really part of a divine plan, but Jesus does not say ("Superstar"). As Jesus is nailed to the cross some productions opt to show Judas suffering a stigmata-like effect, indicating that he is paying for his sin ("The Crucifixion"). After reciting his final words and commending his spirit to God, Jesus slowly dies on the cross, his fate coming full circle. The final number shows the Apostles, Mary and Judas mourning the death of their fallen savior, reflecting on the impact he has had on their lives ("John Nineteen: Forty-One").
|Jesus Christ||tenor (A2–G5)||Title role, leader of the twelve disciples, a man, called the "Son of God" and the "King of the Jews."|
|Judas Iscariot||tenor (D3–D5)||One of the twelve apostles of Jesus; concerned for the poor and the consequences of Jesus's fame.|
|Mary Magdalene||mezzo-soprano (F3–E♭5)||A female follower of Jesus who finds herself falling in love with him.|
|Pontius Pilate||baritenor (A2–B4)||Governor of Judea who foresees the events of Jesus's crucifixion from beginning to aftermath in a dream and finds himself being presented with that very situation.|
|Caiaphas||bass (C♯2–F4)||One of the main antagonists of the show. High priest who sees Jesus as a threat to the nation.|
||One of the main antagonists of the show. Fellow priest at the side of Caiaphas who is persuaded by Caiaphas into seeing Jesus as a threat.|
|Peter||baritone (A2–G4)||One of Jesus's twelve apostles; denies Jesus three times upon the night of Jesus's arrest to save himself.|
|Simon Zealotes||tenor (G3–B4)||One of Jesus's twelve apostles; urges Jesus to lead his followers into battle against the Romans.|
|King Herod||tenor (C♯3–G4)||The King of Galilee; Jesus is brought to him for judgment after first being taken to Pilate.|
From album to stage
Main article: Jesus Christ Superstar (album)
The songs were first written and conceived as a concept album, before the musical was created and staged. On the original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, with Murray Head as Judas, Michael d'Abo as King Herod, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, and Barry Dennen as Pilate. In July 1971, the first authorized American concert of the rock opera took place in front of an audience of 13,000 people at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Civic Arena with Jeff Fenholt singing the role of Jesus, Carl Anderson as Judas and Elliman repeating as Mary Magdalene.
Original Broadway production
The musical opened on Broadway on October 12, 1971, directed by Tom O'Horgan, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. It starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Ben Vereen as Judas and Bob Bingham as Caiaphas. Dennen and Elliman created the roles that they had sung on the album. Kurt Yaghjian was Annas, and Ted Neeley (as a Christ understudy), Samuel E. Wright and Anita Morris appeared in the cast. Carl Anderson replaced Vereen when he fell ill, and the two performers later took turns playing the role. The show closed on June 30, 1973 after 711 performances. The production received mixed reviews; the reviewer from The New York Times deemed it to be a heartless over-hyped production. Lloyd Webber said in 2012: "I hugely objected to the original New York production, which was probably the worst night of my life. It was a vulgar travesty." The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Score, but didn't win any. Lloyd Webber won a Drama Desk Award as "Most Promising Composer", and Vereen won a Theatre World Award.
The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place." Some Christians considered such comments to be blasphemous, the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive. At the same time, some Jews claimed that it bolstered the antisemitic belief that the Jews are responsible for Jesus' death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. The musical was banned in South Africa for being "irreligious".
Other 1970s and 1980s productions
Superstar opened at the Palace Theatre in London in 1972, starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus, Stephen Tate as Judas and Dana Gillespie as Mary Magdalene. It was directed by Australian Jim Sharman. This production was much more successful, running for eight years and becoming the United Kingdom's longest-running musical at the time. Dmitri Shostakovich attended this production in London just before his death. He regretted that he could not have composed something like it; he lauded especially a rock band underpinning full symphonic strings, brass and woodwind.
One of the earliest foreign productions was a five-day run in Sweden at The Scandinavium in Göteborg, opening on 18 February 1972 and playing to 74,000 people (a record at the time). Starring as Mary Magdalene was Agnetha Fältskog. On 16 March 1972 an oratorio version was performed at Memorial Drive Park in Adelaide, South Australia as part of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. This was followed in May by the first full Australian production, at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, later moving to the Palais Theatre in Melbourne. Sharman again directed, and the cast featured Trevor White as Jesus, Jon English as Judas, and Michele Fawdon (1972–1973) and Marcia Hines (1973–1974) as Mary Magdalene. Hines was the first black woman to play the role. Other cast members included Reg Livermore, John Paul Young, Stevie Wright, and Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, who met during the production and subsequently formed the band Air Supply. The production ran until February 1974.
In 1973, the show opened in Paris at the Théâtre de Chaillot in a French adaptation by Pierre Delanoë. The title role was sung by Daniel Beretta, and Maria Magdalena was Anne-Marie David. The critics were unimpressed, and the production stopped after 30 performances. In 1974, first Spanish-language production ran in Mexico with the title "Jesucristo Super Estrella". Julissa played Mary Magdalen. The musical was seen in 1974 in Peru and Singapore.
Robert Stigwood launched two road touring companies in 1971 to cover North America, one of which featured Robert Corff as Jesus. The first major US National Tour, however began In 1976, managed by Laura Shapiro Kramer. The tour continued until 1980. In 1977, the show had its first Broadway revival, running from November 23, 1977 to February 12, 1978. It was directed by William Daniel Grey, with choreography by Kelly Carrol and starred William Daniel Grey as Jesus, Patrick Jude as Judas, and Barbara Niles as Mary Magdalene. Regional productions followed.
In 1981, Emilio de Soto directed an English-language version in Venezuela, with 163 actors. From 1982 to 1984, an Australian production toured Australia and South-East Asia, directed by Trevor White, who also reprised his role of Jesus. The cast featured Doug Parkinson as Judas and Marcia Hines (reprising her role as Mary Magdalene).
1990s and 2000s
The North American touring revival of Superstar in 1992 starred Neeley and Anderson reprising their respective Broadway and 1973 film roles as Jesus and Judas, receiving positive reviews for their performances. This production also starred both Dennis DeYoung as Pilate, and Syreeta and Irene Cara sharing Mary Magdalene. Originally expected to run for three to four months, the tour ended up running for five years. Replacements in this tour included Jason Raize as Pontius Pilate and Simone as the Maid by the Fire and understudy for Mary. In 1994, a New Zealand production starred Darryl Lovegrove as Jesus, Jay Laga'aia as Judas and Frankie Stevens as Caiaphas. Also in 1994, a stage version titled Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection was performed in Atlanta, Austin and Seattle featuring Amy Ray as Jesus, Emily Saliers as Mary Magdalene and Michael Lorant as Judas.
In 1996, the musical was revived in London at the Lyceum Theatre and ran for a year and a half. Directed by Gale Edwards, it starred Steve Balsamo and Zubin Varla as Jesus and Judas, and Joanna Ampil as Mary Magdalene. It featured Alice Cooper as King Herod. The production was nominated for a Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival but did not win. It was followed by a UK tour. This production was revived on Broadway at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 2000, starring Glenn Carter as Jesus and Tony Vincent as Judas. It opened to mixed reviews and ran for 161 performances. It was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical but did not win. In 2002, a national tour starred Sebastian Bach as Jesus and Anderson once again as Judas. Bach received mixed reviews while Anderson was again praised. In April 2003, Bach was replaced by Eric Kunze. Anderson left the show later in 2003 after being diagnosed with leukemia and died in 2004. The tour closed shortly after Anderson's departure.
In 2004 a year-long UK tour began, directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright. Carter reprised his role as Jesus, with James Fox as Judas. In 2005, a successful Scandinavian tour starred Australian Peter Murphy (Jesus), American Kristen Cummings (Mary), Englishman Jon Boydon née Stokes (Judas), Frenchman Jérôme Pradon (King Herod) and Australian Michael-John Hurney (Pilate). A US tour starring Neeley, reprising his role as Jesus and Corey Glover as Judas, began in 2006 and played for five years. A Chilean heavy metal version has played annually in Santiago since 2004. In Boston, Gary Cherone portrayed Jesus in productions in 1994, 1996 and 2003 and Judas in 2000.
2010s; other international productions
A new production of Jesus Christ Superstar was mounted at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario in 2011. Directed by Des McAnuff, the cast starred Paul Nolan as Jesus, Josh Young as Judas, Brent Carver as Pilate, Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene, Bruce Dow as Herod and Melissa O'Neil as Martha. This moved to La Jolla Playhouse later in the year and transferred to the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway in 2012, with Tom Hewitt taking over the role of Pilate. Reviews were mixed. The revival was nominated for two Tonys: Best Revival and, for Young, Best Actor. Neither award was won, but Young won a Theatre World Award. The revival closed after 116 performances and 24 previews.
Through a 2012 ITV competition TV show called Superstar, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the UK public chose Ben Forster for the role of Jesus in an arena tour of the musical that started in September 2012. The production also starred Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie C as Mary Magdalene and Chris Moyles as King Herod. Lloyd Webber stated that the show was meant to be presented outside the confines of a proscenium theatre. The tour resumed in March 2013 in the UK, and an Australian leg of the tour commenced in Perth in May 2013. Andrew O'Keefe played King Herod in Australia, with Jon Stevens as Pilate. Stevens had played Judas in an Australian arena tour in 1992. A 2014 North American tour was cancelled.
The musical has been produced in Ireland, Brazil, Hungary, India, New Zealand, Italy, France, Mexico, Chile, Bulgaria, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Australia, The Philippines, South Africa, Panama, Colombia, Croatia, Bolivia (where it was also released as a TV movie), Netherlands, Portugal and others. Two notable Jesuses were Takeshi Kaga, in the 1976 Japanese production, and Camilo Sesto in the 1975 Spanish production. Mary Magdalene was Rocío Banquells in a 1981 production in Mexico. A Czech version premiered in 1994 in Prague's Spirála Theatre and ran until 1998, with 1288 performances. In the 2000s, a Venezuelan production ran for two years (2006–2008), directed by Michel Hausmann. A Spanish production produced by Stage Entertainment ran from 2007 to 2009, followed by long-running productions in Italy and Sweden (featuring Ola Salo) and Norway.
In 2010, an Australian production presented by Harvest Rain Theatre Company and directed by Tim O'Connor featured Luke Kennedy as Jesus, Naomi Price as Mary, Tod Strike as Judas, and Steven Tandy in a special guest appearance as Herod. A 2014 production in São Paulo, Brazil starred Igor Rickli as Jesus. Negra Li was Mary Magdalene. A 2014 production in Lima, Peru at the Sarita Colonia prison, as part of a rehabilitation program for inmates, received some press. Eighty prisoners mounted the production, directed by inmate Freddy Battifora, who also played the role of Jesus. The Catholic Church approved of the production.
Recordings and broadcasts
The original 1970 concept album was very popular; its 1971 U.S. release topped the U.S. Billboard Pop Albums in 1971. The 1972 and 1992 Australian cast recordings were also both highly successful. In 1994, a studio recording under the name of Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection was released. A 1996 radio production for BBC Radio 2 starred Tony Hadley as Jesus, Roger Daltrey as Judas, and Frances Ruffelle as Mary Magdalene.
In 2000, an Italian performance of Jesus Christ Superstar was broadcast on Rai Radio 2. Carl Anderson appeared on this recording, singing the song "Superstar".
Main article: Jesus Christ Superstar (film)
A film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1973 and was the eighth highest-grossing film of that year. The film, directed by Norman Jewison, was shot in Israel and other Middle Eastern locations. Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson were each nominated for a Golden Globe Award for their portrayals of Jesus and Judas, respectively, and Yvonne Elliman was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Mary Magdalene. Bob Bingham (Caiaphas) and Barry Dennen (Pilate) also reprised their roles. Though it attracted criticism from some religious groups, the film was generally well received. A new song, called "Then We Are Decided" and phrased as a dialogue between Caiaphas and Annas, was written and composed for this adaptation.
A second film adaptation was released in 2000 for television, starring Glenn Carter as Jesus, Jérôme Pradon as Judas, and Reneé Castle as Mary Magdalene, and Rik Mayall as Herod. The film was directed by Gale Edwards and Nick Morris. It won an Emmy Award in 2001 for Best Performing Arts film. The style of the film is more like the stage version than the location-based 1973 adaptation and used many of the ideas from Edwards' 1998 UK tour. Several members of the film's cast went on to the 2000 Broadway production after shooting the film.
A live recording of the 2012 arena tour was shown in Australian cinemas in November 2012. A DVD and Blu-ray copy of the film was subsequently released.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
1996 London revival
2000 Broadway revival
2011 Stratford Shakespeare Festival / 2012 Broadway revival
Jesus Christ Superstar at Playbill Vault: