Jesus Christ Superstar - a musical 45 years in the making
This week a brand new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical theatre classic Jesus Christ Superstar opens in London at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Directed by Tim Sheader, this production is the first to be staged at the Regent's Park venue and promises to use the venue's unique advantages to create an original take on a much loved piece.
After originally hitting the charts as a concept album in 1970, Superstar has gone on to be seen all around the world in various productions, as well as two filmed versions. As one of Lloyd Webber's most famous scores, hits from the show including "Superstar", "Everything's Alright" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him" have been recorded by various artists and are known outside the context of the musical itself.
With its rock infused score, sung through lyrics and timeless story, the musical survives various adaptations, and will be seen at the Open Air Theatre in a festival inspired production that harnesses the 'outdoor summer evening' vibe that the theatre presents. Some 45 years after opening on Broadway, we take a look at the show's historic past in our Jesus Christ Superstar Timeline.
Jesus Christ Superstar Timeline
- 1970: 22 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaborate for the third time on a concept album of songs under the title 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. The album featured the pair's Eurovision Song Contest entry "Try it and See" from 1968 that was reworked to become "Herod's Song" in the musical. On the concept album, the role of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, with Murray Head as Judas, Michael d'Abo as King Herod, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, and Barry Dennen as Pilate. The album told the story of the final week in the life of Jesus Christ and was originally banned by the BBC on religious grounds. The album reached #1 in the US Billboard 200, peaking at #23 in the UK.
- 1971: Following the success of the album in the United States, live productions began to crop up in public arena and performance venues. The first authorized American concert was staged at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Civic Arena in front of an audience of 13,000 people. The cast featured Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Carl Anderson as Judas and Yvonne Elliman reprising the role of Mary Magdalene.
- 12 October 1971: The musical had its Broadway premiere at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in a production directed by Hal Prince. Lloyd Webber was extremely unhappy with the production, later saying "Never in my opinion was so wrong a production mounted of my work. Even though this brash and vulgar interpretation was quite leniently dealt with by the critics at the time, the public saw through it. The biggest selling double album of all time ran in its first theatre incarnation a mere 20 months. Throughout its entire preview period I was never allowed to rehearse the orchestra. Looking back 25 years later, I suppose there were pluses. Because the production was so awful, no production of Superstar in the rest of the world was the same, so I had a baptism of fire by a kaleidoscopic gaggle of directors..." The show received mixed reviews and closed on 30 June 1973 after 711 performances. It was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Score, but didn't win any.
- 1972: The original London production opened at the Palace Theatre on 9 August 1972 in a new production directed by Jim Sharman. The cast included Stephen Tate as Judas, Paul Nicholas as Jesus, and Danna Gillespie as Mary.
- 1973: On 15 August a film version of the musical opened in the United States which went on to gross over $13,200,000.00 in the US and become the eighth highest-grossing film of that year. Directed by Norman Jewison, the film was shot on location in Israel, and combined Biblical and modern day elements with a cast that included Carl Anderson, Ted Neeley, Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen.
- 1974: As the production began to be rolled out around the world, the first Spanish-language production ran in Mexico with the title "Jesucristo Super Estrella".
- 1978: On 3 October the musical celebrated its 2,620 performance at the Palace Theatre beating Oliver! to become the longest-running musical in British theatre history.
- 1982: The production continued to tour the world, with a new Australian production that toured Australia and South-East Asia, directed by Trevor White.
- 1992: A new 20th Anniversary recording was released featuring Keith Burns as Judas, Paul Nicholas as Jesus, and Claire Moore as Mary. This was the first recording to feature the new song "Could We Start Again Please".
- 1996: The first West End revival opened on 19 November at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Directed by Gale Edwards with choreography by Aletta Collins, it starred Steve Balsamo as Jesus, Zubin Varla as Judas, and Joanna Ampil as Mary Magdalene. The production received a 1997 Olivier nomination for "Outstanding Musical Production" and ran for 16 months to 28 March 1998 before embarking on a UK National tour.
- 1999: On 14 December, Jesus Christ Superstar was officially endorsed by the Vatican and was approved to be included in the year 2000 jubilee.
- 2000: The Really Useful Group filmed the stage production with Glenn Carter, once again directed by Gale Edwards which was released in the UK on 16 October. A Broadway revival opened on 16 April at the Ford Center of Performing Arts, which ran for 28 previews and 161 performances, closing on Sunday, 3 September. It was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical at the Tony Awards and launched a US national tour.
- 2004: A brand new year-long UK tour commenced directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright starring Glenn Carter once again in the role of Jesus.
- 2011: Des McAnuff directed a new revival of the show at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada that starred Paul Nolan as Jesus and Josh Young as Judas. The production transferred to the La Jolla Playhouse, before opening at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway in 2012 where it ran for 116 performances and 24 previews.
- 2012: In the UK, an ITV talent show titled 'Superstar' which was produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber opened the casting process to the reality TV format. After weeks of live auditions, the UK public chose Ben Forster for the role of Jesus in a special arena tour of the musical that began in September 2012. Forster starred alongside Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie C as Mary Magdalene and Chris Moyles as King Herod and toured the UK and internationally and was filmed for broadcast and home release.
- 2016: A new production of Jesus Christ Superstar opens at the Regent's Park Theatre on 21 July, directed by Tim Sheader starring Declan Bennett as Jesus.
Jesus Christ Superstar