Jesus Christ Superstar is one of only a handful of shows that I have seen on Broadway.
A recent PARADE article, 10 Things You Might Not Know About Andrew Lloyd Webber, noted that his new memoir, Unmasked, came out March 6.
#1 on the list: “When Sunset Boulevard joined School of Rock, Cats and The Phantom of The Opera on The Great White Way in early 2017, Webber became the only person to equal the record set in 1953 by Rodgers and Hammerstein with four Broadway shows running at once.”
In our Proctors Theatre subscription packet for 2018-2019, School of Rock is included, and Phantom, the longest play on Broadway ever, is one of the additional musicals being offered. I’ve seen Phantom and Cats (#4 on Broadway all-time) at Proctors in prior years, and Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Mac-Haydn Theatre.
Still, my all-time favorite Lloyd Webber piece is Jesus Christ Superstar, written with lyricist Tim Rice. I have noted that it was one of my top 20 albums that came out prior to me going to college. It was the source of great theological debate, especially with my friend Pat, on issues of predestination and the role of the apostles, among many other things.
I watched the 1973 movie. It is one of only a handful of shows that I have seen on Broadway, in 2000.
I’m sure to record and watch the Jesus Christ Superstar Live! event with Alice Cooper as King Herod, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, and John Legend as the title guy, scheduled for Easter Sunday, April 1, on NBC-TV.
Here’s the entirety of Jesus Christ Superstar, with Ted Neeley as Jesus, Carl Anderson as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. Oddly it doesn’t have any of the pops and skips that my well-worn LP has. I Don’t Know How To Love Him was a hit single in 1971, which went to #28 (Elliman), and #13 by Helen Reddy.
Andrew Lloyd Webber received seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, and an Academy Award.
Like many people of a certain age, I first became aware of the name Andrew Lloyd Webber when Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970 “rock opera” with music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice was released. The two-LP package stoked a great deal of theological discussion at a point in my life when I had begun questioning my religious upbringing.
The story is “loosely based on the Gospels’ accounts of the last week of Jesus’s life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not in the Bible narratives.” I played it incessantly, and know much of it by heart to this day.
Moreover, it generated two Top 100 singles for Yvonne Elliman, who played Mary Magdalene. I Don’t Know How To Love Him went to #28 and Everything’s Alright reached #92, both in 1971. Helen Reddy’s version of the former went to #13 that same year.
Superstar, essentially the title track, got only to #74 in early 1970, but was rereleased and eventually reached #14 in 1971. It was sung by Murray Head, the Judas Iscariot performer, with the Trinidad Singers.
Though written before JCSS, I next became aware of the single album Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which, in the US, was a reissue of the 1969 Decca UK album. This music has been greatly expanded since then, with some song titles I do not recognize.
Evita, a musical based on the life of Eva Perón, turned out to be the last Lloyd Webber/Rice collaboration. It was first released as a concept album in 1976, then was performed in the West End in 1978, where it ran for ten years. Patti LuPone created the role of Eva on Broadway in 1979, for which she won a Tony.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is the best-known song, performed by a group called Festival in 1980 (#72 US), and Madonna (#8 US in 1997, from the 1996 movie starring her and Antonio Banderas).
“Lloyd Webber embarked on his next project without a lyricist, turning instead to the poetry of T. S. Eliot. Cats (1981) was to become the longest-running musical in London, where it ran for 21 years before closing. On Broadway, Cats ran for 18 years, a record which would ultimately be broken by another Lloyd Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera.”
Memory is the big hit from Cats, which I heard LONG before I ever saw the show only a few years ago. “Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in the West End production, released a version of the song that… peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1981… Barbra Streisand’s cover reached #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #9 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart in 1982. In the UK this version peaked at #34 the same year. Barry Manilow released a cover as a single in late 1982; this became the highest-charting version on the Billboard Hot 100 when it reached #39 in January 1983. Manilow’s recording also made the Billboard adult contemporary chart, reaching #8.”
This could go on – the most recent production of Andrew Lloyd Webber is School of Rock, based on the movie – but I did want to cite some of his awards. He was knighted in 1992, and “received seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award… a Golden Globe Award, a Brit Award, the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2008 Classic Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.”
CATS was playing at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady this past weekend (July 16-18). I had never been to a production. Other than knowing that it was based on some minor poems by T.S. Eliot and that Andrew Lloyd Webber and his ex-wife Sarah Brightman were involved, I knew surprisingly little about it. So the wife, daughter, and I went; we got some seats on the side, about 2/3s of the way back, and we had a good sightline, especially since much of the action seemed to skew stage left (audience right), where we were. Separately, my brother-in-law, his wife, and their two daughters also attended.
Did you ever see a performance, whether it be a band or orchestra or play, where you recognize the tremendous talent of the performers, the excellent technique of the stage crew (I rather liked the lighting, which was strewn into the audience section), the imagination of the set design, yet somehow feel really disengaged from the performance? That’s how I felt about much of the first act. Oh, there would be a song or two that gained my attention, followed by gaps where I nearly fell asleep. Then near the end of the first part, a song I recognized: Memory. Oh, THAT song.
The second act featured a bizarre segment that none of the people I knew who had seen it years earlier remembered: a what the @#$! pirate motif. Still, the second act was stronger, if only because there was some sense of linear storytelling. The one downside, a reprise, and another reprise and maybe a third, of Memory.
Other distractions, not the fault of the production people. The guy in front of me needed to scratch his head, but does he need to hold his arm perpendicular to the top of his head, thus obliterating my sightline? And the guy behind me eating M&Ms; the eating wasn’t the problem, it was the repeated pouring them into his hand.
Afterward, we saw folks from church who told us about how someone from their previous church wrote a sermon about the theological significance of the story. I suppose this refers to the cat who goes up on a hovercraft that reminded both my wife and me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The sermon writer wept at the end of Cats; wish I had had such a visceral reaction.
I mentioned to the group gathered after the production that CATS was the second-longest Broadway production ever. People asked me what was first, and I was drawing a blank – I HATE when that happens. Was it Chorus Line, Rent? No; I knew I’d know it if I heard it.
Turns out to be Phantom of the Opera, another Lloyd Webber product I’ve never seen. Check out the Wikipedia site, which seems to be updated weekly, or the Internet Broadway Database – IBDB.com, for the current status of each show.