“Superstars”, the newly released documentary on the making of the rock opera film “Jesus Christ Superstar,” fills a nice gap that the film’s official DVD does not have – getting many of the actors to talk about the movie. And what’s really amazing is how the role has continued to affect them 40 years later.
“Jesus Christ Superstar,” composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, was the pair’s first musical to be produced for the professional stage. It was first released as a two-album set in 1970 starring Ian Gillian of Deep Purple in the title role, Murray Head as Judas Iscariot and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. The album became a huge hit, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard album chart for three weeks in February, 1970 in the U.S. It debuted on Broadway in 1971.
When producer Norman Jewison set out to make the film version, he tabbed Neeley, whose career had included starring in the Who’s “Tommy,” to play Jesus. African-American actor Carl Anderson was signed to play Judas Iscariot, which caused some controversy, though Jewison says in an interview on “Superstars” that Anderson gave the best audition and he would have been wrong not to sign him. He also brought back Elliman from the record version to play Mary Magdalene. The DVD includes a tribute to Anderson, who starred with Neeley in a touring version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” after the movie, but died in 2004.
Not only did Neeley do a fantastic job in the “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie role, but he has continued to tour promoting the show in various forms to the present day. Curiously, though there is no real “Superstar” music in the documentary, it does include Neeley’s version of “See Me (Feel Me)” from “Tommy.”
The “Superstars” documentary, which is produced by Neeley’s Ted Head productions, features Neeley, Jewison and actors Barry Dennen (Pontius Pilate), Bob Bingham (Caiaphas), Josh Mostel (King Herod), Kurt Yaghjian (Annas), Larry Marshall (Simon Zealotes) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) talking about their roles in the film. It also includes rare home movies taken on the set and footage of a 2015 reunion of the actors interacting with themselves and with fans.
For those who are fans of the movie, “Superstars” is a welcome addition. The original DVD only includes a commentary by Neeley and Norman Jewison, so this film is something that probably should’ve been done a long time ago. “Superstars” is definitely better late than never.