So here I am, sitting on my couch, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on TNT (there’s a great way to lose a weekend, by the way), when I see an ad for a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar coming to the Warner Theater March 17-22. Having been a fan of this particular show since I was a kid (and it’s a popular choice for musical companies during Lent), I stopped to take notice… and saw that Ted Neeley is playing Jesus.
Okay, what the hell. Ted Neeley is the best-known Superstar Jesus. He played Jesus in the movie in his 20s, played him on Broadway, played him in the touring production for the movie’s 20th anniversary in the 90s, but people: Ted Neeley is 65 years old. For the record, that’s nearly twice as old as Jesus of Nazareth ever lived to be. I caught a performance on that tour in the 90s- he was sounding a little rough then, and that was 15 years ago. And look, no disrespect to Neeley- the lead roles in Superstar are vocally challenging even to performers in their prime. There’s a lot of high-pitched shrieking to be done, and it’s a strain.
Is there really no one else who can believably play this role that we’ve got to trot out a guy who is nearly as old as my grandfather to play someone about my age? Are audiences really so unwilling to see other people playing Jesus?