Dramatis personae (n.) – the characters of a play, novel, or narrative.
At the long-gone but not-forgotten JesusChristSuperstar.net message boards, legendary JCS collector Evan Grubbs once proposed writing character guides for Jesus, Judas, and Annas (the parts in which he was most interested), pieces of study from which possible performers could draw inspiration. Though he never completed the task he’d set for himself, he broke down Jesus’ aria, “Gethsemane,” so well from a character standpoint that it still strongly influences how I’d (ideally) direct the song today.
Picking up the torch from him, I was drafted by my fellow forum moderators at Jesus Christ Superstar Zone in 2008 to explain character motivation to the members who’d been selected to participate in our (ultimately futile) attempt at a fan-made cast recording. While, in retrospect, there was a clear limit to how much of what I was giving them that they could convey vocally, I gave it my all, cribbing from Grubbs, the Scott Miller article cited in “Recommendations,” and the Ted Neeley fan community but filtering all of it through my words and perspective.
This section will draw from those efforts, but it will also include the kind of insight that only those who have played the roles can offer, gleaned from interviews with various JCS cast members over the years conducted for our website. Additionally, unique casting suggestions will occasionally appear; reading this book doesn’t obligate the reader to try them, but they’re worth exploring if one is an adventurous director looking to spice things up.
As previously stated, a thumbnail breakdown of each role is provided courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber Show Licensing, with additional help from various audition notices, including those of both Ted Neeley’s most recent U.S. tour (2006-2010) and the 50th-anniversary national tour (2019-present, at the time of writing), culled from the Internet, as well as old info from the late JesusChristSuperstar.net, the era in which JCS was licensed in the States by MTI, and Wikipedia. (I’ll explain this last momentarily.)
My Two Cents (Before We Continue)
Cast of Characters
Using the accompanying booklet for the original concept album and the ALW Show Licensing “Cast/Vocal Requirements” page as our reference points, I’ll first list the characters in the order of their appearance before moving on to individual descriptions of each. (Note that not every production incorporates all the named ensemble characters; this merely reflects what’s on the website.)
- JUDAS ISCARIOT
- JESUS OF NAZARETH
- MARY MAGDALENE
- SIMON ZEALOTES
- PONTIUS PILATE
- KING HEROD
Large singing ensemble consisting of:
- JUDAS’ TORMENTORS
- 3 PRIESTS
- TEMPLE LADIES
- CURED LEPERS
- SOUL GIRLS
Before We Begin: A Note About Age and Vocal Ranges
- The age range for each character is averaged from the two sets of casting notices I consulted, picking the youngest age of each and the oldest of each for either end of the spectrum.
- As for the vocal ranges, I tried to strive for accuracy and ultimately compromised. In assembling this book, I turned up four possible sources: a list of vocal ranges hosted on JCS.net back in the day (which the webmaster freely admitted could be wrong), info from the respective casting calls for both the Neeley and 50th-anniversary tours, and a handwritten document compiled by an MTI employee at some point in the ‘90s. I didn’t intend to merely go along with the given info from specific productions, as such audition listings are typically calibrated to a particular production’s needs (e.g., they tend to cast Peter and Simon to hire Jesus and Judas understudies, respectively). Further complicating matters, two things will often mess up vocal ranges: a) a lot of scores write male vocals in treble clef and don’t consider it sounding an octave down, and b) on keyboards, there are two standards of what is middle C, depending on the manufacturer. Ergo, a different musical director or music supervisor preparing a range for a casting call might get different results depending on their keyboard or reading of the score. However, when seeking more definitive information from ALW Show Licensing, I was referred to Wikipedia, which at least seems a comfortable middle between the contradictory sources of information. If anything is inaccurate, blame them, and let me know!