The rock musical of the seventies
As with most musicals I've seen, I grew up watching them very young. I think I might have been around ten years old when I first watched Jesus Christ Superstar. Safe to say I didn't fully understand it. But it made me realize what White Thursday and Good Friday were about. This musical tells the story of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem right up to his crucifixion and it was filmed in Israel. But it isn't a very historical picture. While Jesus might be dressed accordingly, Herod is dressed in white shorts and the Roman guards? They wear purple shirts with army pants/trousers and they have guns. Other cast members (be it desciples or other people) are dressed in regular seventies clothing. It always makes me think of the hippy/flower power time (especially with all the long hair). The story mainly focuses on the conflict between Jesus (Ted Neeley) and Judas (Carl Anderson). How Judas fears for the growing adoration of Jesus by the crowds and the fact that people think of him as God. "It only takes a small excuses, to put us all away" as he puts it. Everybody fears the crowds as this musical shows... Talk about peer pressure!
One of the things I always liked about it as well, is the song "Superstar" because it's a perspective from the seventies. For example with lyrics like "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 BC had no mass communication." It makes me think about what would've happened if a Messiah would come today, with social media. There'd be no stopping it!
Doubts and fears
One of the things that this musical is very good at, is showing everybody's doubts and fears. It shows how Caiafas is afraid about losing their status when Jesus-mania takes the upper hand. About how Pilate is afraid of the crowds, about how the crowd feels betrayed and wants Jesus crucified (there's a lot of symbolism in the movies as well - which I won't get into). When you hear the story about the last supper and Jesus' crucifixion, it's pretty general. But this movie makes you understand the motives of everyone involved. Mostly Judas and why Judas felt the need to betray Jesus with a kiss. It's all in the lyrics. Listen closely, really listen, and you'll understand why every character does what he/she does.
Sets and songs
But pretty much all the songs are amazing. How can't it be when Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were behind them?! It's no wonder that this (also) Broadway show has been performed again and again, with Ted Neeley and some of the original cast! Seriously, these songs are beautiful. The characters get enough lyrics to do them justice. Jesus is wise in his words, considering and insightful, while Judas and Mary Magdalene get a chance to sing about their love for the man. The frustration of Pilate and the anger of the crowd... It's all very gripping. The location really helped in this case, which was in Israel. Director Norman Jewison filmed mostly in de sands of Avdat and it helps sell the story. The entrence of Jesus in Jerusalem, the Last Supper in the olive garden, but also the way Jesus is dragged all over the place before he gets sentenced. Even though the clothes makes you realize it's a performance, it makes it that much more realistic.
Side note/Warning: The scene where Neeley gets flogged, is extremely hard to watch... I've seen it many times now, and I still can't see how that could have been a stunt double or anything. So it might actually be Neeley being flogged. For real!
I cannot say enough about this man. Everytime I watch this musical my girlcrush awakens. This man knows to touch your heart. The way he sings... it goes straight through you. Pretty much every song he sings has the same effect, but there's an gigantic climax in the song 'Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)'. Don't just take my word for it, watch it here:
Why he gets me every single time, I can't really say for sure. I just happen to think he's the most perfect embodiment of Jesus Christ the way I always imagined he would be. It's not just the looks, though they do help, but it's also the way he talks/sings and what he means with it. He isn't a hero, he's just a man and he always stays humble. He loves and wants to help everyone and it's all in his eyes. I love the entire musical and all of the songs because there's so much passion in it. In every song, every word... But sometimes, it's simply because I wanna see Ted Neeley as JCS.
I can't say it enough: Jesus Christ Superstar is a work of art and a must see for everyone. Whether you are or aren't religious, it really shouldn't matter, because this is a wonderful way of storytelling. The songs remain with you, the actors are amazing and it's an epic story. If you haven't already seen it, Easter is the perfect time to do it. And if you have, it's the perfect time to watch it again. I plan to see it myself again, because I still haven't seen it with the commentary and I can't wait to find out what Ted Neeley and Norman Jewison have to say about all the production memories.