‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at 50: What Was the Buzz?

“A lot of that has to do with how you plant themes and how you deal with them,” he said. “My idea for the overture was to introduce every ingredient that I could think of within the musical palette we were going to hear through the rest of the recording.”

And then those themes recur, one by one, as when the whole of the overture is mirrored in the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, or when a song reappears with a twist, like “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” To Mary Magdalene it’s a love song about Jesus; when it returns as a motif sung by Judas as a lament, the lyrics change: “He’s not a king, he’s just the same/As anyone I know/He scares me so.”

“Judas understood Jesus, and he obviously was clearly obsessed and loved him,” Lloyd Webber said. “And then at the same time, you’ve got this woman, who was also, if you follow the Bible, clearly very, very much in love with him.”

And then, of course, there’s the musical’s oddball track.

Herod, Paul Ainsley’s glitter-flecked, platform-sandaled drag queen, commands the son of God to “Prove to me that you’re no fool/walk across my swimming pool” in “King Herod’s Song (Try It and See).” The bouncy ragtime number serves as comic relief after Jesus’s gut-wrenching “Gethsemane” aria.

“It’s taking a conventional showbiz number and making it something really very, very nasty,” Lloyd Webber said. “When Herod turns around and says, ‘Get out of my life!,’ that’s a number that’s gone wrong.”

Rice said: “Musically, I think it’s a brilliant stroke on Andrew’s part. Just as everything’s getting heavier and heavier and heavier, and suddenly you have a very catchy melody. We wanted people to almost be misled into thinking, ‘Oh, well, you know, maybe it’s going to be a happy ending.’”

With $1.2 million in advance sales, the Broadway show sold out almost every performance for the first six weeks. But the hype quickly dimmed. It ran for 711 performances in all and failed to win a Tony Award despite five nominations, including one for best score.

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