Introduction

For over 50 years since the release of the “Brown Album” (the American nickname for the original 1970 two-record edition), Jesus Christ Superstar – or JCS, as die-hard fans call it – has wowed audiences and formed a reputation as a global phenomenon with its stage and film success. A timeless work, this passionate tale of politics, love, and betrayal has bridged the gap of many generations through language and music. Tim Rice’s dramatically compelling lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vibrant, emotional melodies bring to life the story of Christ’s Passion, an extraordinary and universally-known series of events seen, unusually, through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. Loosely based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, JCS follows the last week of Jesus’s life. The story, which is told entirely through song (the iconic rock score contains such well-known numbers as “Superstar,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and “Gethsemane”), explores the personal relationships and struggles between Jesus, Judas, Mary Magdalene, his disciples, his followers and the Roman Empire.

Hi. I’m Gibson, and I’m a JCS addict. I discovered it when I was four years old, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I grew up trying to imitate the 1973 film’s stars; over time, I’ve gone from a preadolescent unusually obsessed (thank you, autism spectrum disorder!) with religious fiction and theological studies, the shelves of his film collection filled with biblical epics from both testaments, to an entertainment professional that can’t let go of his first love, to the point he maintains a toehold helping run Jesus Christ Superstar Zonethe number one Internet fan community for JCS.

I only wondered if I was too big a fan when I realized I had 104 JCS recordings, studio and live, in whole or in part, on my mobile device. My pondering grew as I glanced at memorabilia I’d amassed over the years, including…

  • A photocopied early draft of the 1973 film’s screenplay, obtained on eBay and since signed by cast members Ted Neeley, Barry Dennen, Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian, and – most recently – Yvonne Elliman.
  • A copy of the Ellis Nassour/Richard Broderick masterpiece Rock Opera, which detailed the show’s history from inception through the film, signed by its authors, (possibly) personalized to someone described in the book who’d been involved from the ground up.
  • Tim Rice’s memoir, in paperback, autographed and inscribed to a woman with the same last name (no relation), a piece of his stationery with a further note to her pressed within its pages. (Of this and the above, I’ll only say it’s amazing what one can find used on Amazon that increases in value in the hands of someone who knows what they’re looking at.)
  • An assortment of CDs and home video releases (of particular note: the recent 50th-anniversary rereleases of the concept album, in “deluxe edition” 3-CD box set and “new half-speed master 180-gm” vinyl form; a DVD of the 1973 film whose jacket is signed by the late Carl Anderson, Dennen, Neeley, Elliman, Yaghjian, Bingham, and Larry Marshall; a VHS tape of the Indigo Girls and friends’ SXSW performance of JCS: A Resurrection from when they sold it through their site; countless bootlegs in varying states of generational loss as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber-sanctioned remakes).
  • Ticket stubs, playbills, and programs alike – to say nothing of tie-in clothing, accessories, etc. – from nineteen live performances of thirteen different productions, not all of which occurred when I was born or had me in attendance, six of those which did featuring original cast members from the album or film. (I’m also staring at a VIP pass from a recent concert co-headlined by Neeley and Elliman still sitting on my desk.)
  • Countless digital copies of musical scores, band parts, scripts, and even ephemera – the complete production file for the 1973 film, courtesy of the Norman Jewison collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, and several JCS-related items from the papers of Decca Records executive Milt Gabler fall into that category – obtained in the murky musical theater trading world over the years. (A noteworthy private collector once charged me $75 for a rare score – no small fee for an unemployed high school senior [at the time]!)

As well as having the unparalleled fortune of experiencing the show from multiple viewpoints, which gave me a unique insight into its inner workings, my love of JCS – and the love of show biz in general that grew from it – led me to collaborate in my adult life with a New York City producer/auteur on a variety of major media projects for both stage and screen. So, without JCS, it’s safe to say I might not have had the career I have (and enjoy) now.

Over the years of friendships made and connections forged as a result of my fandom, people have seen me offer a wide variety of advice, historical context, opinions, reviews, and stuff like that whenever someone had a JCS question, and more than one has told me I should write a book. I always resisted that call, content to dispense wisdom as needed through the JCS Zone website (and its social media outreach) and a Tumblr blog devoted to that purpose. However, after I realized the sheer amount of stuff I’d written, especially lately, was roughly book-length anyway, I figured, “What the hell… let’s go for it.” And here we are.

Fair warning to longtime readers: if you’ve read the blog or JCS Zone over the years, you’ve seen most of everything that follows. But it will be, in the words of Daft Punk, “harder, better, faster, stronger.”

For example, you won’t find much of my opinions about the merits of older productions vs. newer ones. When I was young in fandom, like a typical child with Internet access, I talked often and bluntly about “how JCS should be,” but I’ve grown out of such an authoritarian stance. This book is called Impressions of a Crucifixion – impressions, plural. Opinion as to which is best is subjective, of course, but many exist, and I want my work to show people a range of possibilities so they know they can make choices, be they big or small, grandiose or simplistic. (That’s why I outsourced much of “Recommendations” to social media, gleaning suggestions for JCS first-timers – a small but not insignificant demographic – by polling a broad online audience, and why I illustrated the individual song pages in the “Know the Score” section with a wide variety of photos of various productions rather than resorting to a mix of the four official filmed versions. JCS is a theatrical text open to more than one interpretation, no different in this aspect than any other play or musical.)

You also won’t find any notes from me on a visual style for the show – ancient vs. modern, a mix of both, etc. I’m not the most visually inclined person; I can tell what works for me and what doesn’t as a theatergoer, but that’s about it. Those are blanks that creative directors and designers can fill for themselves, either with something genuinely exciting and innovative or a display of sheer audacity.

Order of Reading/What You’ll Learn

This book is divided into sections that tell you all there is to know about JCS regarding the show’s content. The behind-the-scenes backstory of how it came to be is best left to other, more capable hands (and they’ll get a shout-out in “Recommendations”). Here, I concern myself in large part with, as an early licensed script once put it, “the music and lyrics which create the mood, tell the story, and make [JCS] the unforgettable theatrical experience it is.” Of course, that doesn’t rule out discussing directorial choices made over the years or recommending what items are worthy of your collection if you want to “get into” the show or develop a well-rounded perspective before staging it.

“Recommendations” is what it says on the label: a smattering of recommended recordings (think “must-hear before doing the show”) and mini-reviews of major filmed versions, as well as a brief bibliography of material worth reading to understand the show itself or the times from which it came, and some parodies just for fun. It is divided accordingly into “Listening,” “Reading,” “Viewing,” and “Parodies,” which can be found through the dropdown menu accessed by scrolling over this option. (Clicking the word itself will take you to a small section summary.)

“Historical Background” (a/k/a “The Bible in a Nutshell”) provides a not-very-in-depth, surface-skimming recap of Judeo-Christian religious history, bringing the reader from the Old Testament up through the show’s first song, “Heaven on Their Minds.” As I’ll discuss in more detail here, some of the context of JCS’ story is less well-known to modern listeners/viewers, for many of whom JCS will be their first (or only) exposure to it. This will hopefully serve as a serviceable dramaturgical background to expand upon during the research phase for your cast and creative team. The section is divided into four parts, which you will find through the dropdown menu accessed by scrolling over this option. (Clicking the word itself will take you to a small section summary like it did above.)

“Dramatis Personae,” which is designed primarily for actors, explores the cast of characters, first offering a thumbnail breakdown of each role (courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber Show Licensing, with additional help from various Internet sources) and then offering further insight, including details about some characters listed in the show’s cast/vocal requirements that rarely appear today (as well as possible ways to use them, based on the work of previous directors) and suggestions for unique casting. You can visit these individual character profiles by scrolling over this option and looking through the dropdown menu. (As before, clicking the word itself will take you to a small section summary.)

“Know the Score” is the section that will be most familiar to longtime readers, an annotated breakdown and analysis of the complete lyrics and plot, beat by beat, song by song, including revisions from 1996 onward and previously unseen content, as well as diving into differences between the old licensed score and the current Lloyd Webber-approved materials. Commentaries from Rice’s and Lloyd Webber’s autobiographies will occasionally appear à la retrospective reflections in any songwriter’s collected lyrics. (Credit where credit is due, the plot descriptions here are chiefly based on a synopsis published at one time by The Really Useful Group, Lloyd Webber’s production company, and used by several subsequent productions, including Ted Neeley’s U.S. “farewell tour.” Tim Rice doesn’t always agree with some of its points, and I’ll cover that too.) This information is available through the dropdown menu accessed by scrolling over this option. (See above, with the added note that “Act I” and “Act II” will consist of a song list for each act, with individual links to info concerning each song. I felt this would be easier to navigate than endless links to songs/scenes.)

To round out the book, which aims to offer the reader the maximum of choices and possibilities when it comes to putting together their unique version of JCS,  “Appendix: My Attempt” tells the story of a production of JCS with which I was involved that intended to “swing for the fences” (however modestly) but was ultimately fated never to open. Nothing sadder than the one that got away… anyway…

An Assortment of Blurbs: An Explanation

My goal with this book is to create a study guide dealing with the nitty-gritty of directing or performing the show, understanding its nuances, etc., the type of writing where someone says, “I heard you’re thinking of doing JCS. Read this first.” As such…

  1. There will be information that doesn’t deserve a specialized section but is directly relevant to the matter at hand. I will tend to group those under the blurb “Trivia.”
  2. “Helpful Hints” are just that. They’ll tend to fall into one of two categories. First, there are several lenses through which to view Jesus Christ, both fictional and in terms of scholarship. In very many ways, JCS is just one more (groan all you like, folks, there’ll be more lyrical references throughout), but sometimes it takes another source to lend insight into the one you’re working on. Throughout the book, in addition to the JCS-focused recommendations in the relevant section, I’ll list material worth reading, both fiction and academic, that may be helpful for character or dramaturgical purposes. Secondly, during “Know the Score,” I may be able to offer advice on music-related areas that have frequently proven troublesome to others, especially when exploring the score as written as opposed to how it is performed. Either of those will be labeled like so.
  3. Try as I might, I can’t utterly divorce my opinions from my writing about the show, and I’m confident enough in some of my ideas for tackling the piece that I have no qualms about sharing them with my readers. So, any time you see the blurb “My Two Cents,” know that any opinions expressed here are simply that, and suggestions are, likewise, merely suggestions. Adopt them, modify them, or ignore them as you like.

As long as you are honest in your mission and have a fierce love – or at least admiration coupled with substantial understanding – of the material, you will be guided to a version of JCS that will stand by itself as a one-of-a-kind staging of what is already a one-of-a-kind musical. And maybe my book will help!

Gibson DelGiudice
2023