“Jesus Christ, Superstar do you think you’re what they say you are? “

I have never actually seen the show live but now hope to if ever there was a revival. I remember my Mum and Dad seeing on Tour it in Blackpool back in 2000 and them not liking it very much as the story line is following an obviously morbid topic…the last week or so of Jesus’s life. Jesus Christ Superstar is a “Rock Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber opening at the Palace Theatre in London in 1972. It has been closed and revived a fair few times.

A rough plot overview

Jesus Christ Superstar tells the biblical story of Jesus Christ’s final days of life. Over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ is being hailed as the messiah of Judea. The council are afraid of Jesus’s new-found power and the lead governor agrees that ” This Jesus must die” Judas disagrees with Jesus actions and believes that he has let the ‘fame’ go to his head. He also dissaproves of Jesus’s close friendship with Mary Magdeline “That a man like you can waste his time on women of her kind”. Jesus realises that his fate is to die and asks god to explain the reason why he has to go through with his death “Why should I die? See this saga through and do the things you ask of me?”

Nervous about losing their power, the Romans, with the help of Judas, find and arrest Jesus who is then taken to Pilate but refuses to say anything in his defence so not to go against his destiny. Pilate demands reasons but when Jesus will not answer properly he listens to the public who say that they want him crucified. He will not do so but instead whips him. When asked “But are you king? king of the Jews” Jesus only answers  “That’s what you say, you say that I am” Pilate is angered by this and answers ” Since you come from Galilee then you need not come to me! Your Herods’ race! “ King Herod also shows Jesus no sympathy mocking him  “You’re a joke you’re not the lord you are nothing but a fraud” Jesus is then imprisoned beaten down and eventually crucified.

1973

The 1973 version stars Ted Neeley as Jesus. It can probably be described as Jesus’s last part of his life crossed with the popular musical “Hair” as it is very colourful and hippyish though very dated now, but a classic. Although the film suffered from criticism from religious groups it was generally well received. It caused quite a stir as there was multi cultural casting. Carl Andersson who played Judas was black and Yvonne Elliman (Mary) is Hawiian.

I love Ted Neeley’s voice it is very typical of the 1970’s style and has a bit of a rock and roll edge. I think also he looks the most like I’d expect Jesus to look out of the 2 actors. The song “superstar” is tamer and less bloody although I think the 2000 version gives a better insight to what it really would have been like. The 1973 version was actually filmed in Israel making the setting much more realistic.

Elaborate sets could distract from the powerful lyrics. The film director used fairly minimalist sets and costumes. This may lose some people, but many would already be lost because of the rock music and the challenging ideas found within the lyrics. The set pieces contained some clever camera work that adds to the effect. One notable touch begins with a tracking shot in the sky of a solitary black vulture, transitioning to a scaffold where the black-robed Caiaphas and his other priests lurk vulture-like over their forthcoming plans.

2000

The most recent version was made in 2000 and it is filmed on a stage setting unlike the older version. Glenn Carter was chosen to play Jesus his voice is great very different to Neeley’s and has beautiful tone sounding more classical but not a patch on Steve Balsamo who I think is by far the most talented performer ever to play Jesus. His version of Gethsemane is unbeatable in my eyes. Some people disliked Carter’s  portrayal of Jesus and said that he was ‘cartoonish’ and that his acting was poor. I disagree as he portrayed a great deal of emotion. French actor Jérôme Pradon was cast as Judas, I personally prefer Carl Andersson’s voice in the 1973 version but I feel Pradon is the better actor however he is made out to be fairly evil when in reality it was more the fact that he was misguided. I feel the real star of the show is Pontious Pilate (Fred Johanson) with a deep, rich and all round incredible voice.

The style of the show is similar to ‘Rent’  or ‘American Idiot’ with the cast dressed in late 1990’s – early 2000’s clothing. It closely follows the psychology of the characters during the plot and can be described as quite obscure. Judas is a key tragic figure, he is unhappy in the way which Jesus is guiding his disciples and feels that he has gained too much power. He betrays Jesus later in the plot.

I adore this particular version of the song “could we start again please?” with Mary and Peter, there’s so much emotion in their voices really beautiful ! It’s so moving I was literally in tears the first time that I watched it. Again Judas is portrayed in a bad light when he just stands by and watches, yet does nothing when Jesus is being beaten. I find it a bit too ‘whiny’ and emotionless in the 1973 version, but then that is probably just down to the style of the singing.

The song ‘Superstar’ is pretty graphic and brutal in this version, Judas directly mocks Jesus in his face leading up to the last few minutes before the crucifixion. The whole scene leading up to the crucifixion is quite ‘sick’  and bloody,  however the 1973 version is possibly more subtle as Judas is more like an angel in the background…Jesus doesn’t know he is there. The very final song  John 19:41 is so sad, I ended feeling really emotional as the background music is beautiful. Mary Magdeline and other followers are sat crying on the stage.

Jesus : Ted Neeley or Glenn Carter?

Ted Neeley and Glenn Carter are both VERY different as Jesus. Neeley plays a more collected Jesus while Carter is more dramatic but I think this adds a great effect to the production. Neeley looks more like Jesus whilst Carter was described as ‘pretty’ by critics. . I think Glenn Carter plays a scared and less composed Jesus who never really comes to term with his fate. He plays Jesus as a political person who lets things get out of control whilst Ted Neeley is more bitter about the whole situation and was also critacized as being ‘whiny’ . I think both portrayals are great. Their voices are also very different Neeley has a stereotypical and awesome 1970’s rock and roll voice whilst Carter’s is more attractive to listen too with beautiful tone, yet he has great power and range. However I have to say that Ted Neeley’s version of Gethsemane is the best although neither are a patch on Steve Balsamo’s who I think is the most talented actor ever to play the role of Jesus…his voice is stunning and his vocal range is mind-blowing!

Character quote : “Surely you’re not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot. There will be poor always pathetic and struggling look at the good things you’ve got. Think while you still have me move while you still see me you’ll be lost and you’ll be so sorry when I DIE”

Herod : Josh Mostel  or Rick Mayall?

Josh Mostel is comical and comes over as being idiotic, whilst Rick Mayall is extremely creepy. I cannot take either seriously however I don’t think the audience is supposed to…neither can really sing. It just adds an entertainment factor to the film! I feel that the 2000 version is more effective as Herod mocks Jesus directly to his face. In the 1973 version Jesus is a fair distance away so you cannot really see his reaction during the song. Whereas in the 2000 version Jesus stays calm and collected.

Character quote : ”  You’re a fake, you’re not the Lord you are nothing but a fraud!!”

 

Pilate : Barry Dennen or Fred Johanson

Barry Dennmen is quite poor in my opinion, his voice is weak and not as emotive and I find him hard to take seriously . I LOVE Fred Johanson his voice has rich tone and incredible and his character portrayal is perfect. For some reason he reminds me of Jaffar from Disney’s Aladdin! and some people compared the style of his character to a Nazi officer due to his style of dress…..Fred Johanson wins hand down for me!

Character Quote : ” Who is this broken man cluttering up my hall way who is this unfortunate? ”

Annas :  Kurt Yaghjian or Michael Schaffer

I like Michael Schaffer from the 2000 version. It made me laugh when on you tube people had commented and compared him to Lord Voldermort! It must be the very pale skin and bald head!!

Character Quote : “Listen to that howling of the blockheads in the street a trick or two with lepers and the whole town’s on its feet”

Ciaphas : Bob Bingham or Frederick B. Owens

I’m not sure. Frederick B. Owens had a HUGE vocal range hitting deep notes impressively. I had to laugh when  I read someones comment stating they thought that he sounded like he was ‘burping’ whilst hitting the low notes!!

Character Quote : ” I  see bad things arising the crowd crown him king which the Romans would ban. I see blood and destruction our elimination because of one man!”

Simon : Larry Marshall or Tony Vincent


I like Tony Vincent as he brings a bit of a pop edge to the show. He comes over as being young and courageous. Both are great though!

Character Quote :  “Christ what more do you need to convince you that you’ve made it and your easily as strong as the fills from Rome who rave our country and have terrorized our people for so long”

Judas : Carl Anderson or Jerome Pradon?

Many have said Carl Anderson is the best, he does show more empathy towards Jesus whilst Jerome Pradon portrays the character Judas as being very bitter and quite mocking towards Jesus. Both are excellent though. Carl Anderson has a wonderful rock and roll voice. Judas is the compelling character and is the only apostle who doesn’t seem to be in a daze. Judas takes a back seat from the other apostles . I love his version of “Damned for all time” when he turns Jesus in to the apostles as he seems genuinely scared by his brash decision  and he cannot live with what he has done “I have been spattered with innocent blood I should be dragged through the slime and the mud”

Character Quote : ” Listen Jesus I don’t like what I see all I ask is that you listen to me and remember I’ve been your right hand man all along”

Peter : Paul Thomas or Cavin Cornwall

I feel Cavin Cornwall from the 2000 version has the better voice out of the two. His beautiful duet with Renee Castle of “Could we start again please” wins hands down for me. The 1973 version doesn’t even come close! Paul Thomas is just ok and doesn’t put nearly enough passion for my liking into the portrayal of his character.

Character quote : “I think you’ve made you’re point now. You’ve even gone a bit to far to get your message home”

Mary Magdeline : Yvonne Elliman or Renee Castle? 

I like both as they are both very original and suited to the time period in which the film was made.

Character quote : “He’s a man he’s just a man and I’ve had so many men before in very many ways”

Conclusions

Well that’s my opinion of the two films after writing this blog post. I think I like both versions almost equally as much as they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Apparently there is a new film in production due to be released in 2014  and rumour has it that Nicole Sherzinger is playing Mary! I’m intrigued to see what it will be like. Then maybe I could write a comparison of all three!!

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