Simon Zealotes & Peter

Simon Zealotes

Male. High Baritone (or Rock Tenor). One of Jesus’ twelve apostles; urges Jesus to lead his followers into battle against the Romans.

Age range: 18-40
Vocal range: G3–B4
Voice type: “authentic Northern Soul/church/R&B voice” (50th)


Male. Tenor(/Baritone). One of Jesus’ twelve apostles; denies Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest to save himself.

Age range: 18-40
Vocal range: A2–G4
Voice type: “folk-rock […] heartbreaking voice with a little edge” (50th)
Possible musical influences: “James Taylor/Rod Stewart” (50th)

Relevant Insights

“My view of Simon was a person who wanted Christ to continue getting power over everything; to take charge and keep going any way he could. In my view of Simon, I didn’t like the fact that he saw Jesus falling apart and starting to be distracted by other people like Judas and Mary. He was becoming trapped. It was those things in the show that would attract my attention. He would be like, ‘Hey! We’re not focused anymore. We’re going in the opposite direction of where we need to go.’ For me, that was Simon. He knew that he had to do good, but at the same time, he knew he had to say this anyway. If that meant violence, I’m not sure to what extent it would have gone, but he was someone who wanted so much good and justice in the world, and Christ to do it.”

– Lee Siegel (Simon, Broadway, 2012)

“Peter thinks that they’re just going to march into Jerusalem and change the way that everybody views the world and they’re going to be soldiers of love, and then everything is going to be accepted the way that he accepted Jesus into his life. But that’s not the way that it goes down, and because of that, Peter goes into this kind of fight-or-flight, whether he means to or not. He ends up doing exactly what Jesus said he would do. It’s interesting, heavy, human stuff.”

– Jason Tam (Peter, NBC Live in Concert, 2018)

Further Analysis

Two characters are highlighted from among the motley crew that makes up Jesus’ apostles, and if we’re being honest, they’re both a bit thinly drawn in JCS.

In the Bible (and the casting notice for the Neeley tour), Peter is a gentle apostle who betrays Jesus but eventually finds his strength and becomes a stabilizing force among the apostles. This isn’t quite the case in the rock opera, where he makes his sole impressions – at least on paper – in Act II as a mild-mannered follower and scared believer to speak in the jargon of the 50th-anniversary tour’s audition breakdown.

In fairness, Simon is not much more fully characterized in scripture than in the show. His name appears among the Twelve who followed Jesus in every Gospel with a list. Only Luke calls him a Zealot; everything else we might learn about him comes from extra-biblical traditions about his post-resurrection missionary exploits. The casting directors for each tour took stabs at fleshing him out for the Backstage ads, but they succeeded in little more than describing a possible take on the character based as much on previous productions as anything in the script. The Neeley tour called him “youthful, exuberant, idealistic, and increasingly militant,” while the 50th made do with characterizing him as a “fanatic follower of Jesus and his underground movement,” an “instigator, outlaw, protestor.”

Most actors relish this “blank canvas” opportunity, where, apart from the show itself, they can invent virtually any backstory that leads their character to the point where an audience first encounters them. Those actors will be happy with either of these roles. Nonetheless, there are still things to point out about each that may help inform their take.

Peter is one of the most frequently forgotten characters in this show. There’s nothing extraordinary about him. He doesn’t have a lot to do as a soloist aside from “Peter’s Denial” and “Could We Start Again Please?” Unless he’s singled out in blocking from the start, in most productions, he’s just “one of the guys”; it’s tough to discern who Peter even is until Jesus predicts his denial at the Last Supper. (An earlier introduction, though not of any depth, was cut from the original concept album before its release; see “Know the Score” for more info.) We gather that he’s not above human frailty, choosing self-preservation over loyalty as he denies Jesus after his arrest. Frankly, though the events are similar, it’s a marked contrast to his character in the Bible, aptly described above, the disciple Jesus chose to make the head of the Church; in JCS, he’s a little boring. However, this creates a lot of room to put a personal stamp on the character, whatever that might be.

As for Simon, a performer may note some crucial things about his solo that may help them flesh out the role, especially in a production chasing contemporary parallels.

First, let’s listen to the crowd:

“Christ, you know I love you.
Did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God,
So tell me that I’m saved.
Jesus, I am with you –
Touch me, touch me, Jesus!
Jesus, I am on your side – Kiss me, kiss me, Jesus!”

This sounds more like teenage girls in the ‘60s screaming for the Beatles or the Beach Boys, not the berobed apostles we read about in the Bible. This is a shallow, freaky, vaguely disturbing lyric. Simon and his friends aren’t devoting themselves to Jesus’ message or philosophy; they’re “fans.” They’re groupies. These are the followers of rock stars.

That, frankly, is frightening enough. But now pay closer attention to Simon:

“Keep them yelling their devotion,
But add a touch of hate at Rome.
You will rise to a greater power;
We will win ourselves a home.”

It sounds like Simon has taken note of the tens of thousands of followers hanging on Jesus’ every word, and he has an agenda: he wants Jesus to use his power to bring about a rebellion against Rome. This loyalty is conditional on his seizing political power, banking on the possibility that these fanatics would topple the government at Jesus’ bidding.

Like some modern-day religious leaders (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and others), Simon suggests that “hate” would be an energizing message for Jesus’ followers. If one is inclined toward the Christian faith, it would not be off-base to suggest that Simon represents, on some level, the temptation to rise to power by earthly means. I’m not saying to make Simon out to be a “bad guy,” but consider carefully the motives of someone with charisma and power, savvy enough at political leadership to make a crowd melt at his feet, keen to make someone else the figurehead, and how outside forces, assuming they play a role in your view of JCS’ story, might make use of that. If your director wants a modern take on the character, I bet “Simon the hateful, paranoid, opportunistic televangelist” won’t be the first thought in their mind. Try it out. See what you think.

My Two Cents

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