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Jesus Christ Superstar: Ted Neeley Gets Intimate


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He sat on the edge of the stage in a darkened theatre, people scuttling all around gathering up the leavings of "market day" at "the temple" in "Jerusalem" and generally setting the place to rights again. As the crowd was spilling out into the night, he looked thoughtful and at peace.

Then some dork (me) squawked, "That’s him - it's Jesus!" Someone's head turned, and another, and another, and just like that he was surrounded by adoring fans shoving programs at him for an autograph, squeezing in to get a snapshot. They felt compelled to tell him their stories of how he'd helped through a drug addiction, a divorce, bereavement. High school. How they'd idolized him since they became aware of his existence. Through it all he smiled, posed graciously, accepted and gave hugs, and listened thoughtfully, signing programs, tickets, arms, babies ~ whatever anyone put forth.

Saving the best for last (this is what I still tell myself), after everyone else had gone, he approached me, hugged me, and waited tolerantly for my saga of gratitude, for carrying me when I wasn't strong, for curing me from cancer, for dropping a house on my most hated enemy's sister - whatever it was, he was prepared for it.

What he got was a slack-jawed wreck with a thousand-yard stare. This, I doubt he'd had to deal with in the past. He looked helplessly at my sister ~ my heroine ~ who offered an embarrassed smile. "She has speech dyslexia," she explained. It was the best she could do on the spur of the moment.

It was her, after all, the older, eons more mature sister, who had first introduced me to Jesus Christ Superstar. So really, she's to blame.

This was in 1993, at the front end of the live "A.D. Anniversary Tour" of Jesus Christ Superstar, celebrating the release of the film 20 years earlier. Expected to run for four to five months, the ridiculously successful tour didn't rein in for five years. Quite a feat, if you consider how much havoc was wreaked around the original film release.

The year was 1973. When you think of important events for that year, you might pull to mind Watergate, Vietnam, Roe vs. Wade…. Pffffft. Minor players. The real news that year was Jesus Christ hitting the big screen, belting out rock & roll tunes like he was born to it. Which - in the case of Ted Neeley, the drummer turned rocker who played the name role in that year's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar - is not far from the truth.

To the hard-core religious sector, the movie - Jesus Christ Superstar - was heresy promoting blasphemy! And not just any old blasphemy, but ultimate blasphemy! Picketers carried signs spouting "Jesus is (not just a man)!" and "You have your story twisted!" among others. They yelled at theater-goers, tossed threats of eternal flames in hell and the wrath of God at them. They wouldn't allow their kids to go see the movie, citing "sacrilege!" But the kids went, anyway. In droves. This singing Jesus spoke volumes to the nation's youth in a language and a style they related to, appreciated, and enjoyed. Those who hadn't been raised with any sort of religion were suddenly compelled to pick up a bible and learn more. And in so doing, guess what they discovered?

That the movie told the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus Christ just as it happened. Embellished with music, dancing, and colorful costumes, sure. But it was factual in its sphere of events. And this Jesus, this rock & roll singing figure, brought a humanity to the role. Suddenly, Jesus was approachable, he was a person, not just a character in a book; someone not to be revered so much as to be understood, with whom the regular masses could sympathize. This Jesus, had you lived 2,000 years ago, could have been your friend in the real sense of the word.

Additionally, Judas…. Ah, Judas. The only one who saw the idolization as it built, who knew it was not a good thing and did what he could to warn his friend. In the end, maybe it was Judas *gasp!!* who saved the world. He did, after all, sacrifice himself for sacrificing his best friend, all for the good of civilization. And Jesus Christ Superstar tells this story from his perspective.

August 16, 2013, marks the 40-year anniversary of the release of the movie. Based on a rock opera written by the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, made into a stage production and eventually immortalized on film, "My lyrics tell the story of Christ the man," said Rice, "just as mixed up and unaware of exactly what he is - as mixed up and unaware as Judas."

This is my Interview with Ted Neeley , who laid it all on the line. He talked about the filming, told secrets, told inside stories, and offered to change my water into wine... for real!

Watch for the theater event to come around your area... seeing this flick on the big screen could be one of the best things you do for yourself this year... or ever.

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