Production Date: September 1969
Jesus Christ Superstar began life as a groundbreaking rock double-album, with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber who, at the ages of 25 and 21 respectively, were just embarking on what would become extraordinarily long and successful entertainment careers.
Andrew Lloyd Webber says: “No-one was interested in doing Jesus Christ Superstar on stage when we started, so Tim Rice and I did it as a record”.
Tim Rice was inspired by the Bob Dylan anthem ‘With God On Our Side’ which features Judas in its penultimate verse and is from his seminal 1964 album ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’. As Rice says in his autobiography: “From a very young age I had wondered what I might have done in the situations in which Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot found themselves. How were they to know Jesus would be accorded divine status by millions and that they would as a result be condemned down the ages?”
The album’s composition began with the seminal song ‘Superstar’ – Andrew had written the melody down on a napkin in a restaurant on the Fulham Road. To listen to Andrew and Tim talk about this in our archive radio interview click the link below.
Listen to the audio:
Andrew and Tim approach Murray Head
Production Date: September/October 1969
Tim knew of a singer called Murray Head after seeing him perform with his band The Blue Monks and Their Dirty Habits whilst working at EMI, and approached him about singing the role of Judas on the single ‘Superstar’.
“Superstar” single recorded
Production Date: 5th October 1969
In order to get the concept album – Jesus Christ Superstar – off the ground, Decca first gave Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice money to make the single and begin the album. They wanted to release the single first, which caused uproar within the MCA board at the time.
The single was recorded on 8-track at the renowned Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, with Irish 22 year old Alan O’Duffy as the chief engineer. Andrew and Tim were backed by MCA and spent a small fortune on the recording, including using a full orchestra and the backing vocals of the Trinidad Singers. The Grease Band, one of the best rhythm sections in the world at that time, were brought in as the foundation of the ensemble.
“Superstar” by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers released
Production Date: 21st November 1969
In the UK, it was featured exclusively on David Frost’s famous TV chat show and sold as many as 3,500 copies in one day.
Martin Sullivan, The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral and former Archdeacon of London, supplied liner notes for the sleeve of the single. “There are some people who may be shocked by this record,” he wrote. “I ask them to listen to it and think again. It is a desperate cry. ‘Who are you Jesus Christ?’ is the urgent enquiry, and a very proper one at that… The singer says ‘Don’t get me wrong, I only want to know.’ He is entitled to some response.”
The single performed more strongly outside the UK than inside its home market, rocketing to number one in Holland above Led Zeppelin and Elvis, and also in Belgium and Brazil, and making the Top 10 in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, it reached number 14 and ‘Superstar’ was number 27 in Billboard’s ‘Top 100 Songs of 1971’ list, above hits such as George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’, the Carpenters’ ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ and ‘Proud Mary’ by Ike & Tina Turner.
The international performance of the single meant Andrew and Tim had permisson from MCA to go ahead with the rest of the album.
John Lennon linked to musical in press but Ian Gillan is chosen to sing ‘Jesus’
Production Date: 4th December 1969
Tabloid papers linked John Lennon to the musical and Time magazine reported that there were rumours John had said he would only do it if Yoko Ono played Mary Magdalene. There were also rumours Marianne Faithful would be Mary – all of these were unfounded and Ian Gillan from the band Deep Purple was brought in to sing Jesus. To hear Andrew , Tim and Ian talking about this on American radio in the 1970s click the play button below.
Listen to the audio:
Composition of Jesus Christ Superstar Album
Production Date: December 1969
The week before Christmas Andrew and Tim went to the Stoke Edith House Hotel in Hertfordshire and got down to business writing the rest of the opera and start thinking about casting.
Production Date: March 1970
Murray Head continued to sing the part of Judas. The Grease Band – Joe Cocker’s backing band – and engineer Alan O’Duffy were all brought back in to record the rest of the album, following on from their involvement in the single.
Murray Head introduced Barry Dennan to play Pilate, as they shared the same management [listen to the audio clip below]
Listen to the audio:
Yvonne Elliman is discovered
Production Date: March 1970
Mary Magdalene was slightly trickier – Andrew discovered a young 19 year old called Yvonne Elliman singing in the Pheasantry in London. To watch Mike D’Abo, who sang King Herod on the album, talk about how she was discovered click the video link below.
Tim Rice mentions that Yvonne’s manager at the time was pushy for a £100 upfront fee, and they agreed to pay her this high fee only because she was “so good”. Rice and Webber would later also pay Yvonne a royalty however.
Album recording begins
Production Date: March 1970
Most of the Jesus Christ Superstar original album was recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes.
To hear the memories of Murray Head, Victor Brox, Mike D’Abo, Alan O’Duffy and Neil Hubbard, watch our exclusive “Memories” video clips, Parts 1, 2 and 3 linked below.
Production Date: March - July 1970
There were 60 recording sessions which took over 400 hours. The people involved comprised of 56 piece symphony orchestra, 6 rock musicians, 11 principal singers, 16 chorus singers and 2 choirs. To hear Victor Brox (who sang Caiaphas) talk about this, click the video link below.
Global release of album
Production Date: October 1970
In the US, a Time Magazine review of the album said: “What Rice and Webber have created is a modern-day passion play that may enrage the devout but ought to intrigue and perhaps inspire the agnostic young.” Meanwhile, according to Tim Rice’s autobiography, mail from all over the world flooded in, most of it thanking the young writers “for making the Gospel story clearer and more relevant.”
Tim thought the finished album ‘sounded splendid’, as engineer Alan O’Duffy remembers [video].
Album Debuts #40 on Billboard Charts
Production Date: 21st November 1970
The album packaging was changed for the release in the USA, where the double album was released to much fanfare at St Peters Church, New York. The album entered the Billboard chart at #40.
Andrew and Tim sign with Robert Stigwood
Production Date: December 1970
Thanks to the success of the album, Andrew, Tim and their manager David Land were being approached for the film and stage rights for Superstar and eventually signed a management deal with the Robert Stigwood Organisation.
Tim said “All these people made the mistake of getting us to ring them or sending round a minion whereas Robert sent round a Cadillac and we zapped round to his place and we liked him.”
Album reaches #1 on the US Billboard Charts
Production Date: 20th February 1971
The Jesus Christ Superstar album’s popularity rocketed with thousands of plays on FM radio. It became a #1 hit on the USA Billboard album charts 4 months after its release. Murray Head (who sang Judas on the album) said in 2012 – “When Jesus Christ Superstar reached American shores the timing was perfect. They were desperate for a new way, for a new translation of the Bible, and Tim’s shrewd idea of angling it from everyman’s perspectives – through the eyes of Judas – worked a treat”
Album Reclaims US Billboard #1
Production Date: 1st May 1971
For a second time in the same year, Jesus Christ Superstar rose to #1 on the Billboard album charts. It went on to be the biggest-selling album of 1971 beating the likes of such masterpieces as ‘Sticky Fingers’ by the Rolling Stones, ‘Led Zeppelin IV’, ‘Santana III’ and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.
“I Dont Know How to Love Him” Released
Production Date: May-June 1971
Yvonne Elliman’s version of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ was released in 1971 and then overtaken by a cover version from the then-unknown Helen Reddy, which peaked at 13 in the Billboard charts compared to Elliman’s 28.
It remains one of the few instances in modern music where two versions of the same song have charted in the Billboard Hot 100. The song has gone on to be covered by many more artists including Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Bonnie Tyler, Peggy Lee and Elaine Paige.
Illegal concert performances spring up all over the USA
Production Date: 28th May 1971
Illegal stage performances of Jesus Christ Superstar by companies such as ‘The Jesus Christ Superstar Company’ were cropping up and touring across the United States. Life magazine even featured a pirate show on the cover in May 1971.
Thanks to Robert Stigwood now being involved, by August 1971 Judge Lawrence Pierce of the US District Court in Manhattan upheld a temporary restraining order halting all unauthorised productions of Superstar anywhere in the United States.
First official Arena Tour Opens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Production Date: 12th July 1971
With unofficial productions now banned, the official arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar was now free to go ahead. 13,640 people crowded the Pittsburgh Arena for the first concert showing on July 12, breaking the attendance record set there by Tom Jones the year before. The Original Touring Company visited 54 locations across the USA and performed the show 74 times. Yvonne Elliman reprised her role as Mary, with Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas.
The Pittsburgh event kicked off a sell-out concert tour of the US, booked by William Morris. These concerts included a cast of 26 plus 26 musicians, with lighting and costumes but no staging or sets. The first tour was so successful and demand so great that by the end of the summer of 1971 there were two arena concerts simultaneously touring America.
Second and Third Arena Touring Companies open
Production Date: 17th September 1971
Due to the incredible success of the main arena tour, Robert Stigwood unleashed a second company on Sept 17th in Providence, Rhode Island. He would later add a college touring company meaning that, at one stage, there would be three simultaneous arena tours performing the work around the United States.
Arena Tour sells out two nights at Hollywood Bowl
Production Date: 29th September 1971
The arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar sold out two nights at Los Angeles’ famous Hollywood Bowl, taking $200,000 with a top ticket price of $10.
Broadway show opens to over $1m ticket sales
Production Date: 12th October 1971
In October 1971 Jesus Christ Superstar went to Broadway. More than 500 people were called for castings for the 40 roles over a period of 2 weeks. The director of ‘Hair’, Tom O’Horgan, directed the production and his designs were larger than life and symbolic. The show opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, in New York on 12 October 1971. It starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Ben Vereen as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen in the same roles as they had performed on the original album – Mary and Pilate.
By now the double album had sold over 3.5 million copies, and the show’s opening gross was between $1-2million, ensuring immediate success. The show closed at the end of June 1973.
To hear the story of the opening night party, as told by photojournalist Ros Drinkwater, view the video below.
Swedish production opens with Agnetha Faltskog
Production Date: 18th February 1972
The record-breaking Swedish show opened in Sweden to a five day run playing to 72,000 people on the 18th of February 1972,starring Agnetha Faltskog from just before her ABBA days.
Tour Opens in Australia
Production Date: May 1972
The Australian version of the show was a massive success, and directed by Jim Sharman, the same man who would be later be awarded the coveted role as director of the West End production.
West End Production Opens
Production Date: 8th August 1972
Whilst the UK reaction to the Jesus Christ Superstar album had initially been cool, the momentum of the international success of the show had finally begun to penetrate; by the time producers were creating London’s production there was no shortage of pre-sales.
The show was directed by Australian Jim Sharman, and starred Paul Nicholas and Stephen Tate.
More worldwide show openings
Production Date: 1973
Jesus Christ Superstar on stage went from strength to strength, with productions opening in many countries including France and Japan in this year.
Production begins on the Jesus Christ Superstar movie
Production Date: 1973
Directed by Norman Jewison, who had just finished making the screen version of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and starring Ted Neeley as Jesus, the film was shot on location in Israel. Although Tim Rice originally submitted a screenplay, it was Melvyn Bragg’s interpretation that made it to the screen.
Andrew and Tim wrote two new songs specifically for the movie, ‘Could We Start Again, Please’ to give Yvonne Elliman – who was again reprising her role as Mary – another song, and ‘Then We Are Decided’ for the Priests to sing. To hear Barry Dennan talking about how he introduced Tim and Andrew to Norman Jewison, listen to the audio clip below.
Listen to the audio:
JCS movie released
Production Date: 1973
Nominated for two Oscars and six Golden Globes and winning a Bafta, the Jesus Christ Superstar movie was released by Universal Pictures and grossed $13.2 Million at the box office. The soundtrack was conducted by the legendary Andre Previn.
One 17 year old auditioned unsuccessfully for a part, but producer Robert Stigwood kept him in mind for future productions. Three years later Stigwood would cast John Travolta for the lead in the film that would make him a star, Saturday Night Fever.
Jesus Christ Superstar first UK Tour
Production Date: 1983
Produced by Robert Stigwood in association with MCA, and by arrangement with David Land, the first UK tour opened at the Manchester Palace Theatre.
Japanese ‘Kabuki’ production in London’s Dominion Theatre
Production Date: 1991
In 1991, the Shiki Theatre Company attended the Japan Festival in London, and performed the Japonesque version of Jesus Christ Superstar with Japanese cast at the Dominion Theatre with great success.
Australian Arena Tour smashes records
Production Date: 1992
The Australian Arena Tour ran for 84 nights and played to over one million people, breaking all previous Australian box office records. Grossing $40 million in just 16 weeks, it established a new form of mass entertainment in Australia. The cast recording sat at #1 on the ARIA album charts for 10 weeks featuring John Farnham as Jesus, Jon Stevens as Judas, Kate Ceberano as Mary and Angry Anderson as King Herod.
US 20th Anniversary Tour
Production Date: 1992
Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson reprised their 1973 movie roles as Jesus and Judas in the North American touring revival of “Superstar” in 1993 – titled the AD Anniversary Tour. Originally expected to run for three to four months, the tour ended up running for five years and grossed almost $100 Million.
Italian production opens
Production Date: 1995
Productions by Massimo Romeo Piparo ran for over 10 years between 1995-2005, with revivals from 2009-2011. In 2000, one of these productions was endorsed by the Vatican’s official 2000 Jubilee programme.
Radio 2 Production Broadcast
Production Date: 19th October 1996
In 1996, a BBC Radio 2 production of Jesus Christ Superstar was broadcast featuring Spandau Ballet”s Tony Hadley singing the part of Jesus, Roger Daltrey of The Who in the role of Judas, and Frances Ruffelle playing Mary Magdalene.
West End revival opens at Lyceum Theatre
Production Date: 19th November 1996
A revival production by the Really Useful Theatre Company of Jesus Christ Superstar was directed by Gale Edwards (who had been discovered by Andrew Lloyd Webber when she directed his Aspects Of Love in Australia) and choreographed by Aletta Collins. It starred Steve Balsamo as Jesus, Zubin Varla as Judas, and Joanna Ampil as Mary Magdalene.
Legendary John Napier was the designer, and David Hersey designed the lighting. Steve Balsamo and Zubin Varla were succeeded by Glenn Carter and Ramon Tikaram during the run. The production received a 1997 Olivier nomination for “”Outstanding Musical Production”". The show closed after a 16 month run.
Jesus Christ Superstar Revival Tours UK
Production Date: 18th August 1998
Following on from the successful London revival, The Really Useful Theatre Company launched a touring production, which began in Newcastle at the Theatre Royal and moved on to Southend, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leeds, Oxford, and ended in Belfast.
Worldwide amateur groups licence Jesus Christ Superstar
Production Date: 1998
Amateur productions of the show have been staged in 41 different countries. On average, over 300 amateur productions are officially licenced each year and the show is performed by amateur dramatic groups, high schools and church groups.
Jesus Christ Superstar returns to Broadway
Production Date: 16th April 2000
In the summer of 1999, the Really Useful Theatre Company announced its plans to open Superstar on Broadway for Easter of 2000. Rehearsals began on Valentine’s Day 2000 and Superstar became the second show to be at the Ford Centre when it opened on April 16th. The show was once again directed by Gale Edwards and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast who had been brought in to choreograph the UK Tour and received three nominations for the Tony Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
The original casting announced for the production was Glenn Carter as Jesus, Jason Pebworth as Judas, Maya Days as Mary, Paul Kandel as Heord, and Kevin Gray as Pilate. As previews began, Jason Pebworth left the cast, and Tony Vincent — who had been playing Simon — took over the role of Judas.
DVD of UK Tour released
Production Date: 16th October 2000
A special version of the 2000 UK tour production was filmed at Pinewood Studios for DVD release. Glenn Carter played the part of Jesus, Jerome Pradon was Judas and Rik Mayall appeared as Herod. The DVD won an International Emmy Award and has sold around 1.1 million copies to date.
Jesus Christ Superstar in Mexico City
Production Date: 2001
The Mexican Production at Centro Cultural in Mexico City ran for 9 months.
US Revival Tour launches
Production Date: 1st October 2002
Superstar veteran Carl Anderson was signed up to play Judas again for this tour which was produced by McCoy Rigby Entertainment, the Nederlander Organisation and the Really Useful Group. The tour began at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts then moved on to Las Vegas, followed by many stops including Orlando, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Vancouver, Milwaukee and Los Angeles where it finished in September 2003.
Reunion “Concert” in Texas
Production Date: 14th April 2003
April 2003 also marked a reunion for Jesus Christ Superstar veterans Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen who starred in a Jesus Christ Superstar concert by the The University Of Texas at El Paso Dinner Theatre.
Jesus Christ Superstar in the Abbey
Production Date: 1st June 2004
Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville provided a suitably stunning backdrop for this European production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The show ran until mid August 2004.
Special Edition DVD Release of the original movie
Production Date: 31st August 2004
On 31 August 2004 in the United States and 7 March 2005 in the UK, the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar film was re-released on DVD in a “Special Edition” format. Presented in widescreen format, with subtitles in English, French and Spanish, the DVD featured audio commentary by director Norman Jewison and by actor Ted Neeley (who plays Jesus in the film) and a specially recorded interview of Tim Rice.
Productions in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands
Production Date: 2004-2005
International productions of Jesus Christ Superstar continue to roll out with shows in Scandinavia and the Netherlands during 2004 and 2005.
Greece, South Africa & South Korea Tour
Production Date: 2006
Pieter Toeriens 2006 production of Jesus Christ Superstar broke all box office records at the Theatre On The Bay in Cape Town and at his Montecasino Theatre in Johannesburg. It was then expanded and toured to Athens with bigger set, redesigned costumes and a larger ensemble, and Korea where it played spectacular stadiums and created an international sensation.
One-off Benefit Reunion stars Jack Black
Production Date: 13th August 2006
A special concert performance of Jesus Christ Superstar was held at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, Hollywood, CA. Tickets for the event had gone on sale priced at $110 to $550 with money raised benefiting the YouTHeatre America and The Ricardo Montalban Foundation. The illustrious cast brought together several stars of the 1973 film including Ted Neeley (Jesus), Yvonne Elliman (Mary) and Barry Dennen (Pilate). Original Broadway ‘Judas’, Ben Vereen also performed and King Herod was played by film star Jack Black.
Revival of Kabuki version in Japan
Production Date: 14th May 2007
A revival of the Japonesque version opened at THE SHIKI THEATRE in Tokyo. (Photos by Takashi Uehara).
Anastacia performs “”Superstar”" at Concert for Diana
Production Date: 1st June 2007
American pop singer Anastacia performed ‘Superstar’ at the Concert for Diana in Wembley Stadium backed by a gospel choir and watched by an estimated audience of 500 million people.
Sinead O’Connor covers “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”
Production Date: 14th July 2007
Sinead O Connor launched her album “”Theology”" with a cover of “”I Don’t Know How To Love Him, one of dozens of versions recorded over the years.
Steve Balsamo performs Gethsemene at Andrew’s 60th Party in the Park
Production Date: October 2008
Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates his milestone birthday with a party – in Hyde Park. Amongst the host of star names performing on stage that evening (the show is also broadcast on BBC Radio 2) is Steve Balsamo, reprising his stunning 1996 Lyceum produciton performance of Gethsemene.
More international productions for Jesus Christ Superstar
Production Date: 2009-2010
The show toured throughout the USA in 2009-10, as well as Spain. Productions opened in Hungary and Sweden and amateur productions continued to be extremely popular around the world.
Jesus Christ Superstar release for UK Amateur Groups
Production Date: 26th August 2009
2010 sees the 40th anniversary of the original Jesus Christ Superstar concept album – and as the anniversary of the show approaches, The Really Useful Group is pleased to announce that the show is now being licensed for amateur society production in the UK, for performances during 2009, 2010 and 2011.
For more information and to enquire about licensing the show, please visit our Licensing application website using the link below
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber featured on the Culture Show
Production Date: 4th November 2010
BBC2′s The Culture Show featured an exclusive interview with Andrew and Tim Rice to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Jesus Christ Superstar concept album. Andrew and Tim were interviewed by Matt Berry, star of The It Crowd and The Mighty Boosh, who considers Jesus Christ Superstar to be the seminal concept album after falling in love with it aged 15. Andrew and Tim discussed their memories of making the album, and their thoughts on its continuing popularity and significance.
Record-breaking production opens at Stratford Festival, Ontario
Production Date: 2nd May 2011
Debuting at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival before it moved on to La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, this production scooped a record-breaking 11 Broadway World awards as voted for by the public and received rave early reviews for its director and cast. “”These remain some of Lloyd Webber’s catchiest tunes, spanning rock to pop to operatic bombast,”" wrote The Hollywood Reporter. “”Hearing excellent singers deliver these tunes through powerful, crisp amplification is a primal thrill”" said the New York Post.
Andrew said of the production “”I have just seen a fabulous production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It is very probably the best acted performance of the show I have ever seen and fully worthy of the fantastic reviews it has received. I pass my congratulations to Des McAnuff and everyone involved with the production at the Stratford Festival, Ontario.”
South African Tour Begins
Production Date: 12th May 2011
In the summer of 2011, Peter Toerien produced a South African tour of Jesus Christ Superstar which played at the Opera House of the Artscape Theatre Complex in Cape Town before transferring to the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg.
New UK Arena Tour and TV casting show “Superstar” Announced
Production Date: 17th January 2012
Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that a new UK Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar would launch in September 2012, and offered a unique opportunity to play the title role via a brand new ITV television show ‘Superstar’. He said: “”Presenting a new, 2012 version of Jesus Christ Superstar for arenas is truly exciting. Some of the best performances of this show have been in rock venues and I’m thrilled to see the show return to its roots. ITV is providing the perfect platform for us to find a new, British Superstar.”
Broadway opening for Des McAnuff’s Stratford Festival production
Production Date: 22nd March 2012
After a highly praised production in Stratford, Ontario, the Canadian production of Superstar moved to Broadway and opened at New York’s Neil Simon Theatre. The production, directed by Des McAnuff, earned 2 Tony Award nominations.
Times theater critic Charles McNulty saw the show in December and became a convert. Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News wrote that “”Act I feels like a Super Bowl halftime show with lots of ADD-style energy, visual punch and Janet Jackson-esque choreography”". He added that the show finds its footing by the second act and that “”by the time Jesus hovers over orchestra seats on a self-steering motorized platform, the production earns an enthusiastic OMG!”
ITV Superstar begins
Production Date: 7th July 2012
The search to find a Superstar to perform the role of Jesus in the first ever UK Arena Tour gets underway on ITV1. Andrew Lloyd Webber enlists the help of a panel of experts comprising Melanie C, who will play opposite the winner in the role of Mary Magdelene. Jason Donovan and Dawn French. The show is presented by Amanda Holden.
Remastered Jesus Christ Superstar original album is released
Production Date: 16th July 2012
The album that started it all, Jesus Christ Superstar, is digitally remastered and released in the UK to co-incide with the new ITV show. Andrew said “” ‘The re-mastered album sounds fantastic and we hope that fans both old and new will enjoy it.”
Ben Forster wins Superstar to take lead role
Production Date: 25th July 2012
After a tense final, Ben Forster is selected by the public to perform the role of Jesus in this Autumn’s Arena Tour opening at the O2 on 21st September. He will be joined by Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie C as Mary Magdalene and Chris Moyles as Herod.