Tuesday, October 12, 1971

Jesus Christ Superstar opened on Broadway

Jesus Christ Superstar

Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice

The Studio Album:

Released: November 21, 1970

Peak: 13 US, -- UK, 13 CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US

Genre: show tunes

The Cast Album:

Released: January 8, 1972

Peak: 31 US, -- UK, -- CN, 110 AU (1992 Australian cast album)

Sales (in millions): 6.0 US

The Soundtrack:

Released: June 30, 1973

Peak: 21 US, 23 UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Overture
  2. Heaven on Their Minds
  3. What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying
  4. Then We Are Decided s
  5. Everything’s Alright
  6. This Jesus Must Die
  7. Hosanna
  8. Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem
  9. Pilate’s Dream
  10. The Temple
  11. Everything’s Alright sr (The Kimberlys, 3/20/71, 99 US – medley of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright”; Yvonne Elliman, 9/25/71, 92 US)
  12. I Don’t Know How to Love Him (Helen Reddy, 2/20/71, 13 US; Yvonne Elliman, 4/24/71, 28 US)
  13. Damned for All Time/Blood Money
  14. The Last Supper
  15. Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)
  16. The Arrest
  17. Peter’s Denial
  18. Pilate and Christ
  19. King Herod’s Song (Try It and See)
  20. Could We Start Again, Please? s
  21. Judas’ Death
  22. Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)
  23. Superstar (Murray Head, 1/31/70, 14 US; Assembled Multitude, 2/6/71, 95 US)
  24. Crucifixion
  25. John Nineteen: Forty-One

Songs followed by sr (studio release), c (cast album), or s (soundtrack) indicate that the song was unique to that version of the album.

Rating (all versions combined):

4.570 out of 5.00 (average of 17 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

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. It started out as a studio album which topped the U.S. charts before being staged in a theatrical context. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, 21, and lyricist Tim Rice, 25, conceived it as a stage work, but when they couldn’t get the funding, they opted “to use an album as the vehicle for introducing the piece.” BE

The success of the studio album opened the door for a stage production. It debuted on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on October 12, 1971. It sarred Jeff Fenholt, Ben Vereen, and Bob Bingham. When Vereen fell ill, Carl Anderson stepped into the role of Judas. They later took turns playing the role. It was met with mixed reviews – even Webber himself criticized it – and closed after 18 months. WK

In 1972, the show opened at the Palace Theatre in London with Paul Nicholson starring as Jesus and Stephen Tate as Judas. It ran for eight years, making it the longest-running musical in England at the time. WK

“The action largely follows the canonical gospels’ accounts of the last weeks of Jesus’ life, beginning with Jesus and his followers arriving in Jerusalem and ending with the Crucifixion. 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

“Audiences from across the age and cultural spectrum responded. Teenagers who didn’t know from Jesus, opera, or oratorios liked the beat, the hard rock sounds, and the singing and bought the album, as did parents who felt that the record offered a chance to understand some aspects of this youth culture around them, and especially its music – and so did some more forward-thinking clergy and theologians, who saw any opportunity to spread the word about Jesus where it wasn’t previously going as intrinsically good.” BE

The story focuses on Judas and his “political and interpersonal struggles” WK with Jesus. Judas “is depicted as a conflicted, tragic figure” WK alarmed by Jesus’ lack of planning and “relatively recent claims of his divinity.” WK Such a point of view was “as daring as you could get” WR and “perhaps downright sacrilegious” BE but “it succeeds in all ways.” WR

The fact that this was “full-blown rock music” BE was as remarkable as the subject matter. Similar ground had been covered with Hair but that was “really a pop/show-music pastiche, not rock.” WR Jesus Christ Superstar, however, was a “fairly radical rock/theater hybrid” BE making it the first to “successfully put rock music in a theatrical context.” WR The Who created the template with their 1969 album Tommy but it would be 1992 before it became a stage musical. It should also be noted that Jesus Christ Superstar is technically an operetta as it was completely sung without any spoken dialogue.

Deep Purple’s lead singer Ian Gillan served as the singing voice of Jesus while Murray Head was Judas and Yvonne Elliman was Mary Magdalene. The latter two had pop hits with “Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

In 1973, it was made into a film directed by Norman Jewison. It “was shot in Israel and other Middle Eastern locations. Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson were both nominated for 1974 Golden Globe Awards for their portrayals of Jesus and Judas…Though it attracted criticism from some religious groups, the film was generally well received.” WK

Combined, the original studio recording, cast album, and soundtrack have sold more than 7.5 million copies, with the cast album moving the mast majority.

Resources and Related Links:

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First posted 10/12/2011; last updated 10/3/2023.

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