This week marks the 50th anniversary of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), the film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical of the same name. The Norman Jewison-directed classic brought the iconic stage show to the silver screen, in all its sequinned seventies splendour, but What’s the Buzz behind the scenes? Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).
- Director Norman Jewison came up with the idea for the film during the filming of Fiddler on the Roof (1971) when Barry Dennen provided the concept album, in which he voices Pilate, to Jewison on set.
- Initially, Jewison began drafting the script with the 1971 musical’s lyricist, Tim Rice. However, due to his vision for the film differing from Rice’s more epic one, Jewison ultimately did not proceed with Rice’s draft.
- Jesus Christ Superstar saw the on-screen debut for every actor in the film, apart from Barry Dennen and Josh Mostel.
- Jewison considered Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Barry Gibb, Robert Plant, and Ian Gillan for the role of Jesus before landing on Ted Neeley, who had understudied the role and played a reporter and a leper in the Broadway version.
- Carl Anderson, who plays Judas, understudied Judas before taking over the role on Broadway and in Los Angeles. Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), and Bob Bingham (Caiaphas) also reprised their Broadway roles in the film.
- The film was shot across more than 20 locations in Israel, including the caves of Beit Gubrin (now the Beit Guvrin National Park), which were used for What’s the Buzz?, Strange Thing Mystifying, and Everything’s Alright.
- Jewison cast little-known rock musicians in the roles of the Apostles, only two of them with prior experience in film.
- In the breaks between shooting, the cast played volleyball, dividing themselves into team “Jesus” and team “Judas”.
- The film soundtrack includes two songs that are not on the original concept album: Could We Start Again Please?, which had been added to stage productions, and Then We Are Decided, which was original to the film.
- Jewison showed the film to Pope Paul VI, who said, “Mr. Jewison, not only do I appreciate your beautiful rock opera film, I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity, than anything ever has before.”
Still have Heaven On Your Mind? To celebrate 50 years of Jesus Christ Superstar, some of the film’s most iconic numbers are available to watch now on The Shows Must Go On! YouTube channel.
And Everything’s Alright, you can purchase tickets to see Jesus Christ Superstar in a city near you as part of the ongoing North American and upcoming UK and Netherlands tours.