Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Introduced in 1970, it highlights the political and interpersonal struggles of Judas Iscariot and Jesus. The action largely follows the canonical gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life, beginning with the entry into Jerusalem and ending with the Crucifixion. Twentieth-century attitude and sensibilities as well as contemporary slang pervade the lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the political depiction of the events. Stage and film productions accordingly feature many anachronisms.
A large part of the plot focuses on the character of Judas who is depicted as a realistic, conflicted, and tragic figure who is not satisfied with Jesus's apparent lack of political planning and recent claims of divinity.
Plot and songs
However, Judas' warning falls on deaf ears, as Jesus' followers have their minds set on going to Jerusalem with Jesus. As they question Jesus as to when they will be arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them to stop worrying about the future since whatever will happen is already predetermined by fate (What's The Buzz).
Recognizing that Jesus is irritated by the badgering from his followers, Mary Magdalene helps Jesus relax by massaging him with ointment. However, Judas expresses concern over the fact that Jesus is associating himself with Mary, whom he believes is a concubine. Judas says that by associating with her, he (Jesus) is contradicting everything that he says and this, in turn, will be used against him and his followers (Strange Thing Mystifying). Jesus gets angry and tells Judas that unless he is without sin himself, he should not be judging the character of others. Jesus then tells his followers that they are no better than Judas, since, in light of the fact that they are most concerned with going to Jerusalem and expanding the following, they are clearly not listening to what he (Jesus) is saying and do not even really care about him, but only the power that he can bring them.
Jesus is clearly pessimistic about the future, but Mary Magdalene tries to assure him that everything will be alright and attempts to relax him with more ointment (Everything's Alright). In response, Judas angrily insists that the money used to obtain the ointment could have been used for more philanthropic causes, such as helping the poor. But Jesus insists that he and his followers do not have the resources to help every poor person, as that is not a realistic expectation. Jesus states that everyone should just preoccupy themselves with the present moment, as the future will not be so bright.
Meanwhile, Caiaphas and other high-ranking proud Jewish priests meet to discuss Jesus and his movement. At this point, his followers continue to grow by the thousands, so much that even the higher order is aware of the hype. Given the size of Jesus' movement and the fact that the movement consists of Jews who are unwilling to accept the Romans as their kings (in contrast to the high Jewish priests), it is clear to the priests that he is becoming a threat to the Roman Empire. And if the Roman Empire is threatened, then many Jews will suffer-- perhaps even those who are not following Jesus. As all of the priests attempt to solve the problem of Jesus and his followers, Caiaphas states that the only real solution is to kill Jesus (This Jesus Must Die).
As Jesus and his followers arrive in Jerusalem, they are confronted by Caiaphas, who demands that Jesus disband them. However, Jesus replies that putting an end to the hysteria is impossible (Hosanna). Afterwards, Jesus is approached by his apostle Simon Zealotes. Realizing the popularity that Jesus has attained, Simon suggests that he (Jesus) lead his mob in a war against Rome and gain absolute power (Simon Zealotes). But Jesus vehemently rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understand what true power is nor do they understand his true message (Poor Jerusalem).
Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, reveals a dream that he had. The dream foretells his meeting with Jesus and the aftermath of Jesus' death, whereby Pilate receives all of the blame. However, Pilate is not entirely clear of the meaning of his dream (Pilate's Dream).
Back at Jesus' temple, many of his supporters decide to use the temple for selling weapons, prostitutes, and drugs. When Jesus arrives, he is furious and demands that everyone leave the temple (The Temple). Once everyone leaves, Jesus realizes that he will be soon apprehended by the authorities and put to death. At this point, Jesus gets confronted by a mob of lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed. However, the mob is too large and Jesus gets overwhelmed. Unable to take the pressure, Jesus demands to be left alone.
After the mob leaves, Mary Magdalene arrives and finds Jesus under a lot of stress. Mary tells him to rest. While Jesus is asleep, Mary reflects on the fact that while she is in love with Jesus, he is unlike any man that she has loved before. As a result, Mary does not know how to cope with her feelings (I Don't Know How To Love Him).
Meanwhile, Judas worries more and more about Jesus' ever growing movement. Not knowing what to do, Judas secretly visits the high priests. Judas pleads for them to help him think of a solution, provided that it does not condemn him (Damned For All Time). The solution offered by Caiaphas is that Judas reveals the whereabouts of Jesus, such that the authorities can apprehend him and imprison him. In exchange for the information, Judas is offered money. Judas initially turns down the offer, as it raises some ethical concerns within him. But he eventually obliges when Caiaphas tells of charities that he can give the money to. Judas decides that it would be better to turn Jesus in before his movement gets any bigger, which would thus lead to the deaths of not only him, but all of his followers as well. Thus, to save the thousands of followers and himself, Judas reveals that on Thursday night, Jesus of Nazareth will be at the garden of Gethsemane (Blood Money).
On Thursday, Jesus meets with his twelve apostles for the Last Supper. Jesus realizes, unbeknownst to the apostles, that this will be his last supper with them. As Jesus passes bread and pours wine for his dining partners, he reminds them that they should remember him during supper by thinking of the wine as his blood and the bread as his body. Upon reflection, however, Jesus recognizes that up to this point, none of his followers have truly understood him or his true message of love. Furthermore, Jesus realizes that he will be betrayed and denied by two of his closest friends. So Jesus angrily states that nobody will even remember him after he dies and that two of his closest friends will betray and deny him. Jesus then reveals that Peter will be the one who denies him, not once, but three times. Judas then reveals himself as the person who will make the betrayal. Judas attempts to explain why he will do it, but Jesus refuses to listen. This makes Judas angry and he blames Jesus for all the trouble that has occurred up until this point. Upset, Judas leaves to find the police and bring them to Jesus (The Last Supper).
After his apostles go to sleep, Jesus speaks to God, his father. Jesus questions his father as to why he must be the one to die and what his death will mean in the grand scheme of things. But Jesus recognizes that he cannot go against God's divine plan-- whether he knows what his death will mean or not-- and agrees to die in accordance with the plan (Gethsemane). Judas arrives with the police and, in order to point Jesus out to them, kisses him on the cheek.
Afterwards, Jesus gets arrested. As his apostles wake up, they attempt to fight the authorities in order to free their messiah, but Jesus asks them to put their swords away and let the authorities take him to Caiaphas. As the police take him to Caiaphas, a mob of newsreporters ask Jesus what he will do but Jesus declines to comment. When Jesus meets with Caiaphas, Caiaphas asks if he is the son of God. Jesus responds that he never said that about himself, but was only called that by others. However, this answer provides enough justification for the high priests to send Jesus to Pontius Pilate (The Arrest).
Meanwhile, Jesus' apostle Peter is confronted by an old man, a soldier, and a maid by a fire. Each state that they remember seeing him with Jesus, but to all three people, Peter denies that he knows him. Peter's denial is witnessed by Mary, who, after the three people leave, asks Peter why he denied Jesus. Peter responds that he had to do it in order to save himself, since he would possibly be arrested and prosecuted if it is discovered that he is a close friend of Jesus. Mary wonders how Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would deny him (Peter's Denial).
When Jesus is brought to Pilate, Pilate mocks him. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is the son of God, Jesus gives Pilate the same answer that he gave Caiaphas; "That's what you say." Pilate is unsatisfied with his answer, but eventually comments that since Jesus is from Galilee he is not under his jurisdiction, and sends him to King Herod (Pilate and Christ).
King Herod has heard all the hype about Jesus and is excited to finally meet him. But Herod becomes frustrated when Jesus opts to not demonstrate his alleged supernatural powers. Herod decides that Jesus is just another phony messiah and does not even want to take the time to prosecute him. Herod sends him back to Pilate (King Herod's Song).
In a scene added for the Broadway production, the apostles and Mary Magdalene wistfully remember the beginnings of their movement and solemnly wish that they could just start over (Could We Start Again Please?).
At this point, Judas has seen Jesus, beaten and battered by the authorities. Judas, now feeling extreme guilt, meets again with the high priests and expresses regret over what he has done. Judas feels that in the aftermath, he will be blamed for the death of Jesus and will forever be remembered as a disloyal backstabber. Caiaphas states that Judas has nothing to be ashamed of and that what he has done will save everyone. However, this does nothing to rid Judas of his guilt. As Judas is left alone, he feels betrayed by God for having chose him, within the divine plan, to be the one to betray Jesus. Judas blames God for murdering him and hangs himself (Judas' Death).
Jesus is brought back to Pilate for his trial. Pilate asks Jesus to defend himself, but Jesus barely speaks. Pilate decides that while Jesus is not mentally stable, he still does not deserve to die. But this does not satisfy the crowd, who continually ask Pilate to crucify him. Reluctant to kill Jesus, Pilate attempts to satisfy the crowd's bloodlust by flogging him. After 39 lashes, however, the crowd is still unsatisfied. At this point, Jesus is so badly beaten that even Pilate is starting to feel guilt. Hoping that he can somehow free Jesus, Pilate pleads with him to defend himself. But once again, Jesus refrains from any such defense. With the crowd screaming for Jesus' crucifixion and with Jesus refusing to give a reason for Pilate not to kill him, Pilate reluctantly agrees to crucify him. However, Pilate does not hold himself responsible and washes the blood off of his hands (Trial Before Pilate).
As Jesus prepares to be crucified, he is met by the spirit of Judas. Judas questions why Jesus chose to arrive in the manner that he did and if what happened to him was really part of a divine plan ("Superstar").
Jesus slowly dies on the cross (The Crucifixion). The play ends with an orchestral piece, "John 19:41". The title is a reference to a verse in the Bible about Jesus being laid in the tomb (Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid --John 19:41).
From album to Broadway
The opera was first heard as an album before being staged—on Broadway and later in London's West End. (The same pattern would be followed by Rice and Lloyd Webber's second musical hit, Evita.) On the original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, lead singer of Deep Purple, and that of Judas by Murray Head. The future Gary Glitter had a one-liner as a priest and Michael d'Abo appeared as King Herod. The title song, "Superstar", sung by Judas, and "I Don't Know How to Love Him", sung by Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman) about her relationship with Jesus, were both big hits.
In June of 1971, the "first" US staged version was performed at Southold High School in Southold, New York by students of the school. However, other unauthorized productions were also going on at the time, eliciting a response in court from the authors, eventually shutting down several hundred productions between them before the official premiere (and becoming a benchmark in copyright law).
On October 12, 1971, the show opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway. The Broadway production received mixed reviews, as reviewers from the New York Times deemed it to be a heartless overhyped production; Andrew Lloyd Webber has also criticized it harshly. The show starred Jeff Fenholt and Ben Vereen. Carl Anderson stepped into the role of Judas when Vereen fell ill, and the two performers later took turns playing the role. The Broadway show closed after 18 months.
The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Some Christians claimed that by showing Jesus as a man but not a god (as Rice explicitly said) and by omitting the resurrection, Superstar was sacrilegious. They also found the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive.,  At the same time, some Jews said that it bolstered the anti-Semitic claim 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.,  Many religious groups protested outside the theatre during the first Broadway production. However, after many of these same groups of people actually saw the production, resentment ceased amd popularity for the production grew.
Superstar opened at the Palace Theatre in London in 1972, starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and Stephen Tate as Judas. This production was much more successful, running for eight years and becoming the world's longest-running musical at the time (a title currently held by the The Fantasticks, which ran off-broadway for 42 years.)
During the filming of Fiddler on the Roof, Barry Dennen (who played Pilate on the concept album) suggested to Norman Jewison that he should direct Jesus Christ Superstar as a film. After hearing the album, Jewison agreed to do it. The movie was filmed in Israel (primarily at the ruins of Avdat) and other Middle Eastern locations in 1973. The cast consisted mostly of actors from the Broadway show, with Ted Neeley (a reporter, leper and Jesus understudy in the Broadway version) and Carl Anderson starring as Jesus and Judas, respectively. Along with Dennen, Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and Bob Bingham (Caiaphas) reprised their Broadway roles in the film. Originally, Jewison had wanted Ian Gillan to reprise his role as Jesus, but Gillan turned down the offer, deciding that he would please fans more by touring with Deep Purple. Like the stage show, the film gave rise to controversy, and a religious group bombed a theater in South America at which it was playing.citation needed
Some of the lyrics were changed for the film, partly enriching its content ("Hosanna", "The Temple") and partly making it more acceptable for a Christian audience. When Jesus had originally said to a group of beggars overpowering him "Heal yourselves!", the film had "Leave me alone!". In "Trial before Pilate", Jesus said "There may be a kingdom for me somewhere else, if you only knew", while the original line had been "if I only knew". These latter changes weren't espoused by later productions and recordings.
One member of the film's cast went on to an unusual film career. Philip Toubus, who played Peter, found himself struggling as a mainstream actor. But three years after appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar, he changed his name to Paul Thomas.
In 1976, the opera began its first U.S. national tour with a company managed by Laura Shapiro Kramer. The tour continued until 1980.
By the turn of the century, the furor over the play had died down so greatly that it is now often performed by church groups, who appreciate it simply as an established secular play concerning Jesus, with excellent music. There was also a North American touring revival of "Superstar" in 1992, with Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson reprising their roles as Jesus and Judas and getting rave reviews for their performances. Originally expected to run for a couple of months, the tour ended up running for seven years.
In a radio production for BBC Radio 2, Jesus was played by Tony Hadley and Judas by Roger Daltrey.
1992 also saw the London production on its 20th Anniversary, featuring Paul Nicholas from the original cast as Jesus, and the highly acclaimed Australian concert cast, starring John Farnham as Jesus, Jon Stevens as Judas and Kate Ceberano as Mary Magdalene. It was produced by the entrepreneur Harry M. Miller and released as an Australian Cast Recording production.
In 1994, a revival (also produced by Harry M. Miller) in New Zealand saw changes in production style, such as the rock guitar solo introducing the show played by a guitarist on a spotlighted, elevated platform, and costuming which included a complete lack of sandals. Jesus was played by Darryl Lovegrove; Caiaphas by Frankie Stevens, elder brother of Jon Stevens (the two played together on stage when the production toured Australia, with Jon in his previous role as Judas); and Judas by the stage, television and cinema star Jay Laga'aia. Red laser was used to represent the whip during the scourging; similarly lasers were used for the wounds of the crucifixion. The show closed with an expanding cone of green laser, centred on Jesus' crucified corpse, shining through mist to eventually envelop the whole audience.
Also in 1994, a stage version titled Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection was produced and performed in Atlanta. This version featured many musicians from the Atlanta alternative scene, including the Indigo Girls members Amy Ray as Jesus and Emily Saliers as Mary Magdalene. A studio recording of the songs was also released.
In 1996, Superstar was revived once again in London. Directed by Gale Edwards, this version of Superstar was updated to appeal to a new generation of fans. It starred Steve Balsamo and Zubin Varla as Jesus and Judas. Referred to as the "Lyceum Production," it was relatively successful. This eventually led Gale Edwards to restage the show for a UK tour, followed by a video starring Glenn Carter as Jesus and Jerome Pradon as Judas. This "new" interpretation of the show was revived on Broadway in 2000 again starring Carter, but a last minute change made Tony Vincent, who had played Simon in the video, step into the role of Judas. It opened to mixed reviews and closed quickly. It was more popular in its UK/European run; it opened in 1998 and closed around 2001.
In 2002, a national tour was begun with the 1980s rock star Sebastian Bach as Jesus and Carl Anderson once again as Judas. Bach received mixed reviews, while Carl Anderson was again praised. In April 2003, following a disagreement with the director, Bach was replaced with the Broadway star Eric Kunze. Carl Anderson eventually left the show after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was replaced by Lawrence Clayton, who had appeared as Simon and understudied the part of Judas in the previous national tour.
Carl Anderson died on February 23, 2004. According to the Los Angeles Times, Anderson had been planning to appear in a worldwide tour that was to open in Vatican City in the fall of 2004. As of 2006, the tour (announced as a "Farewell Tour") is scheduled to open, starring Ted Neeley as Jesus and Corey Glover (of rock band Living Colour) as Judas, in September.
The show has become a cultural phenomenon and has been produced many times, including productions in Hungary, New Zealand, France, Mexico, Chile, Bulgaria, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Australia, The Philippines, Bolivia (where it was also released as a TV movie) and many more. One notable Jesus was Takeshi Kaga of Iron Chef fame in the 1976 Japanese version. Germany has produced the show several times, such as the 2001 live recording. In 2004 the show was revived for yet another tour around Britain. Glenn Carter reprised his role as Jesus and the British pop star James Fox played Judas.