Tuesday, October 12, 1971

Jesus Christ Superstar opened on Broadway: October 12, 1971

Originally posted October 12, 2011.

Jesus Christ Superstar didn’t follow the usual route for successful musicals – a nice run on Broadway accompanied by a cast album and then a movie and soundtrack version a couple years later. “Then 21-year-old composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and 25-year-old lyricist Tim Rice” BE had conceived Jesus Christ Superstar as a stage production, but opted to introduce it via an album when they couldn’t get it funded. BE After the 1970 album topped the U.S. charts, the musical went to Broadway the next year. A cast album followed in 1972 as well as an opening at London’s Palace Theatre. It became England’s longest-running musical up to that point, running for eight years. A movie and accompanying soundtrack came in 1973. Combined, the three albums have sold more than 7.5 million in the U.S. with the cast album moving the vast majority.

The musical broke precedent in other ways as well. It was “the first show to successfully put rock music in a theatrical context (Hair is really a pop/show-music pastiche, not rock)” WR seeming to pick up where The Who’s Tommy had left off. BE It was also unique in that it was technically an operetta because it was a dialogue-free musical. WR Also, musicals had become more serious, but “writing a show about Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas was about as daring as you could get” WR “and perhaps downright sacrilegious.” BE

“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 intentional anachronisms.” WK The story “highlights the political and interpersonal struggles of Judas Iscariot and Jesus.” WK Judas “is depicted as a conflicted, tragic figure who is not satisfied with what he views as Jesus’ lack of planning, and alarmed by his relatively recent claims of his divinity.” WK

Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan served as the singing voice of Ian Gillan while Murray Head and Yvonne Elliman provided the voices for Judas and Mary Magdalene, most notably on the respective hits “Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

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