JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR

PrintE-mail Written by Robert Martin

As children, we used to sing the main song from this musical, replacing the lyrics with “Georgie Best, Superstar, wears frilly knickers and a padded bra.' How it made us laugh, despite us being far too young to know what we were singing about. 

Such is the power of that song that we bet most of you reading this can sing it too, even if just that one bit, which is quite something given that the film came out in 1973 and isn't one of the most revived of pieces on stage.

You know the plot, of course you do, as the musical follows the final days in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen mainly though the eyes of Judas and as told by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice, in the style of a rock opera where there are no spoken lines.

In the sunbaked sandy wastes of a desert landscape, amidst temple ruins and scaffolded pillars, a bus arrives bringing with it a load of passengers who look like they've taken a wrong turn on the way to Woodstock. They get off the bus, passing out costumes and props, taking a huge cross off the top of the bus, hugging, swaying and generally being very 1960s. Very clearly, this is class one religious education for the 'Hair' generation. 

With no bothersome explanation of what's going on, who they are or why they are there, and in the great tradition of musicals, these crazy hippy kids kind of 'put on a show', becoming the biblical characters leading up to and including the crucifixion. Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Judas and JC himself all get to belt out a few numbers.

So, what does a rock opera, which was born out of the flower power generation of the 1960s, have to say about 2000 year old stories here and now in 2016?

On the down side, for lo, we shall beginneth there, things get off to a shaky start because, what was satire free in 1973, now comes across a bit Spinal Tap in the opening numbers, all pompous rock guitars and people gyrating all over the place. Songs where disciples are singing lines to Jesus like 'What's the buzz, tell me what's-a-happenin' don't help and plant the film squarely in its era. A number involving Jewish high priests plotting to overthrow the new would-be messiah looks AND sounds like Russell Brand and Nabu from The Mighty Boosch have joined the tour bus, not helping to set the appropriate tone.

However, thanks to a some stand out songs like 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' and fabulous routines such as Herod's gloriously camp 'Try it And See' and of course the title track, you do get drawn in and, no matter what you believe, there's no denying it's a cracking story. 

The performances are wildly enthusiastic, with Carl Anderson and Ted Neeley making a committed double act in Judas and a quite beautiful Jesus, whilst Yvonne Ellimen shines as Mary. Director Norman Jewison keeps things pacey and, as the crazy kids get back on the bus, leaving an unressurected Jesus behind, you just know they'll be making love, not war. But what they were doing there in the first place, God only knows. 

JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR (1973) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: NORMAN JEWISON / SCREENPLAY: MELVYN BRAGG, NORMAN JEWISON / STARRING: TED NEELEY, CARL ANDERSON, YVONNE ELLIMEN, BARRY DENNEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW



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