2. Jesus Christ Superstar
Points – 144
Votes – 19
Firsts – 7
When they were originally trying to pitch Jesus Christ Superstar, they were told it was “the worst idea in history”. Someone, somewhere, probably regretted saying that.
Unable to find anywhere willing to support them in making this into a live production, it was originally recorded as a rock album with members of Deep Purple (who did that guitar riff – you know the one – yes, that’s the one) and Manfred Mann taking up the principal roles. It was an unexpected hit, despite – or who knows, maybe because – it was banned by the BBC for its content. Reservations started to melt, especially when it reached number one on the US albums chart, and it was eventually given a shot on Broadway. Reviews there were mixed at best, with audiences – ready for something different and special – professing to be a bit disappointed with the production. The music and lyrics were well regarded, and the casting of a black Judas praised as forward thinking, but many critics thought it was just a bit bland – not least of all Webber, who said later “never before was so wrong a production mounted of my work”. Thankfully, the West End production was considered far better, and it is this rather than its disappointing American launch that is probably the reason for its continued success.
I don’t really want to spend too much time talking about the story – I mean, you probably know it by now – other than to mention that casting Judas as such a central figure was a big deal, and one inspired by a Bob Dylan song asking if Judas had God’s backing. Controversy was almost guaranteed, what with this being the most famous of Bible stories – incidentally, this is Webber’s second adaptation from the same book, which is sheer laziness if you ask me – although interestingly dwindled to almost nothing as time went on, and by the time 1971 had rolled around, none other than the Vatican Radio Station had played the album in its entirety, giving it the blessing of the Church. Pope Paul VI considered it to be a highly useful instrument in bringing people to religion, and an endorsement like that is hard to argue with.
Many famous faces have appeared in the show over the years – particularly in the part of Herod, a relatively small role, prime for big name cameos such as Alice Cooper and Rik Mayall – including John Legend and Sara Bareilles in an American TV screening, and a production over here off the back of ITV reality TV show Superstar that won Ben Forster the chance to play opposite Tim Minchin as Judas, Mel C as Mary and Chris Moyles as Herod.
The show has proven to be highly influential, but there is one particular show that owes a slightly more unusual debt to JCS. In 1972, future Crystal Maze host, Richard O’Brien was promoted from chorus to play the part of Herod, but within weeks they decided that they didn’t like his Elvis impersonator version of the role, and fired him. O’Brien went home, disgruntled, and decided he could write a much better rock ‘n’ roll opera anyway, and thus was the genesis of The Rocky Horror Show – not influenced by Jesus Christ Superstar, so much as created out of spite for the show.
For a show that was initially rejected, Superstar has done incredibly well for itself, and leaves an indelible mark on those involved. DAODS’ production was well before I joined the society, but is even now spoken of as one of the best productions we have ever done, and for those of us who are yet to be involved in a production of this iconic show, I am sure we all can’t wait until its time rolls around again.
Alex Campbell’s Song Choice – “Gethsemane” – an absolute masterpiece of a number
Lockdown Pick – “Could We Start Again Please?”