A few days shy of the holiest week of the year for Christians - aptly named Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter (with Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the most sacred events on the calendar coming between) - Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's seminal rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was resurrected on Broadway by TOMMY and JERSEY BOYS director Des McAnuff - modeled after the hit Stratford Shakespeare Festival production last year and comprised of many of the same cast members, including all three leads - to hails of praise and hosannas, mostly. While JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR itself will always divide audiences and critics alike - and not merely because of its controversial content and its button-pushing treatment of the hallowed tale it tells - the magnetism and sheer power that Lloyd Webber's propulsive, throbbing rock score imbues gives the show an energy, vitality and life rare to find in even the most earnestly effervescent and energetic of comparable entities - the recently revived and similarly-themed GODSPELL in a revival a few blocks away included. Then, there are Tim Rice's lyrics - oh-so-spot-on in 1970, but still biting and edgy today in McAnuff's hi-tech and elaborately presented new Broadway production. Using the book of John as the jumping off point, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR tells the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus Christ (Paul Nolan) and his subsequent betrayal by Judas (Josh Young) and sentencing to death at the hands of King Herod (Bruce Dow) and Pontius Pilate (Tom Hewitt). The twelve apostles, Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy) and her female companions, lepers, Pharisees, priests and others populate the grand story told almost entirely through song - the show is 90% music - and Webber and Rice's score never, ever lets up. While this may not be the most faithful rendering as far as the Bible is concerned, nor the most historically accurate, SUPERSTAR is now available to experience for a whole new generation thanks to this new revival and the timing could not be more ideal. The time is right for a revival of SUPERSTAR, and, as Andrew Lloyd Webber himself has recently related, this new production of the show is the best ever as far as he is concerned. High praise indeed - coming from no less than the Lord.
So, today, let's take a look at some highlights of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR over the years, touching upon some aspects of the legacy of the lauded rock opera not covered in the comprehensive SUPERSTAR history done in this column almost nine months back - when this new revival first premiered, available here.
Walk Across My Swimming Pool
No score post-HAIR quite captured the national zeitgeist quite like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's raucous rock and groovy, far-out ideas for their 1970 concept album JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. The odd mixture of rock, pop, jazz and blues with the vestiges of opera and elements of musical theatre employed in order to relate the story - to present and explore the ideas of the piece more so than in a mere plot-based show - made for a risky and ripe stew, yet the 2-LP set went on to become a huge multi-platinum hit, spawning an international smash single in the title track, "Superstar", as performed by original concept album Judas, Murray Head. Yvonne Elliman essayed the role of Mary Magdelene on that recording and went on to play the role of the prostitute with a heart of gold in the bizarre 1972 original Broadway production by HAIR helmer Tom O'Horgan as well as Norman Jewison's Israel-set, real location-based film adaptation of the property. While the West End production ran for 8 years and all associated iterations of the rock opera were successful - some much more so than others - Lloyd Webber and Rice were never completely satisfied with any of the stage or screen versions of the difficult to stage and even harder to film entity. Then, around the turn of the century, Gale Edwards created a new vision for the piece especially aimed at an audience of the millennium and committed it to celluloid, and, while a Broadway revival occurred to mark the event, the show struggled at the box office and with critics, many finding fault with the somewhat garish and muddled new production. Enter Des McAnuff a decade later - already having proven himself a rock opera master with the unforgettable original Broadway production of TOMMY and having found recent success with JERSEY BOYS, based on the song catalogue of the Four Seasons - with a revolutionary, of-the-moment take on it and, as we may soon see, the show catches on with audiences of all ages all over again - just as it first did in 1970.
So, let's compare some of the finest and most memorable performances of the show's most famous songs and take a look at the three strikingly different iterations of the rock opera on Broadway to date as we celebrate the resurrection of JESUS CHRIST SUPSERSTAR on Broadway in 2012 A.D..
First up, check out the original promo video for "Superstar" from the 1970 concept recording of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR as performed by Murray Head.
Following that, take a look at how the song was rendered in Norman Jewison's 1973 film version of the rock opera, engagingly enacted by Carl Anderson.
Here we have American Idol Season Six contestant Carly Smithson singing the title song under the mentorship of the Lord himself - and Simon Cowell, as well.
Lastly, see current THE VOICE standout and 2000 Broadway revival Judas, Tony Vincent, sing the title song from SUPERSTAR at an Andrew Lloyd Webber concert in 2004 in Beijing.
First, original concept album Jesus, Ian Gillen, performs the impassioned lament crucial to the score and the core of the character, "Gethsamane". While performers since have sung it with more force and technical precision, Gillen brings it a raw and earthy vivaciousness impossible to copy.
Next, here is original Broadway Jesus, Jeff Fenholt, with a more restrained and measured take on the titanic ballad.
Now, the piece de resistance (for most SUPERSTAR fans): Ted Neeley, the most famous Jesus to date - and still touring in the show, in the role (and still strikingly, shockingly thrilling in the role) - in the film version. Hard to top that!
See him sing it in 2006 here, at his New York Farewell Performance.
Take a look at Glenn Carter in the film version of the millennial production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR here.
Here is original PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Michael Crawford, giving his spine-tingling singing of it at the 1992 Royal Variety Performance.
Lastly, here is my personal favorite take on the song: West End revival star Steve Balsamo. The song has never been sung quite like this, before or since - hear and see why here in this clip from a 2004 concert in Holland!
I Don't Know How To Love Him
Since Yvonne Elliman sang the role of Mary Magdelene on the original concept album of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, as well as in the original Broadway production and its subsequent cast recording and in the film and on its soundtrack, she has little competition for the crown when it comes to perhaps the score's most famous song, "I Don't Know How To Love Him" - see and hear why here.
Helen Reddy made it a Top 20 hit in 1971, though - hear why here.
Sarah Brightman performs the classic country-tinged ballad here, as only she can.
Broadway 1971, Broadway 2000 and Broadway 2012
Finally, let's take a peek at the three versions of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on Broadway to date.
Sample the original Broadway production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in this clip from the 1972 Tony Awards in which the cast performs an arresting medley of "The Temple", "Poor Jerusalem" and "I Don't Know How To Love Him".
Compare that Tony Awards performance to one by the revival cast of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR nearly 30 years later here, led by Glenn Carter and Tony Vincent leading a portion of "Gethsemane" and "Superstar".
Lastly, here we have a glimpse into the new 2012 Broadway revival, directed by Des McAnuff.
As a special bonus, take in this spectacular vocal on the show's opening number, "Heaven On Their Minds", by the truly terrific Josh Young at the recent special fan concert put on by the Broadway cast.
So, is JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR going to stick around for a while this time, or will this new Broadway production fail to make the 2-year-run mark like the two well-intentioned productions before it? We shall have to wait until 2014 or so to see - A.D., that is. Also: what song are you looking most forward to seeing and hearing in the new 2012 revival? This score has so many strong show-stopping modern musical theatre standards - it's heaven.