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Heaven On Their Minds: Remastered “Jesus Christ Superstar” Coming From Verve, with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Yvonne Elliman

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“Nothing could convince me that any show that has sold two and one-half million copies of its album before the opening night is anything like all bad,” wrote The New York Times’ Clive Barnes on October 13, 1971 upon the Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.  Indeed, the original Jesus Christ Superstar was a bit of a revelation, a true hybrid of rock and theater, introduced as a record but destined for the world’s stages.  And it’s returning in a new, remastered edition.

That 1970 concept album starred Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan as Jesus, Murray Head as Judas Iscariot, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene and Manfred Mann’s Mike d’Abo as King Herod, and featured equally impressive talent among its musicians (Chris Spedding, Mike Vickers, Wings’ Henry McCullough) and supporting vocalists (P.P. Arnold, Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan).  Gillan recently recalled Superstar with fondness to Phil Sutcliffe in MOJO, describing it as “top-notch stuff” and a “career highlight.”  He even described being greeted on a 1980s tour of the USSR by fans who had “certainly never heard of Deep Purple, but they knew all about Jesus Christ Superstar!”

Though it’s been oft-reissued over the years, that 1970 Superstar is seeing another release, overseen by composer/orchestrator/producer Lloyd Webber.  He’s remastered it for superior sound on CD, long having felt that the original British vinyl was “much better and brighter than the American.” Though the original masters have been lost, according to Lloyd Webber (along with the possibility of previously unreleased material), he was able to source the new issue from a copy of the masters found in his personal archives.  The result was made available in the U.K. last month, with an American release arriving today on Universal’s Verve label.

The new Jesus Christ Superstar coincides with an arena tour also being shepherded by Lloyd Webber.  Despite skepticism from lyricist Tim Rice, Lloyd Webber cast the role of Jesus via a television program, and actor/singer Ben Forster was announced on July 25 as the winner.  The tour, also starring former Spice Girl Melanie C as Mary Magdalene, begins at London’s O2 Arena on September 25.  Directed by Laurence Connor, it’s completely unrelated to the recent Broadway staging by Jersey Boys’ Des McAnuff which closed on July 1, 2012 after 116 performances at New York’s Neil Simon Theatre.  The U.K. edition of the remastered cast album is housed in a slipcase featuring the colorful artwork of the upcoming tour; the enclosed booklet cover uses the familiar brown logo rather than the psychedelic yellow art from the 1970 U.K. album.  The U.S. version lacks the slipcase, but is otherwise identical.

We’ve got more details after the jump, including the track listing and order link!

The steady flow of revivals and reissues only confirms the longevity of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s musical, which was an almost-immediate sensation, despite (or perhaps due to!) the controversy generated by its subject matter.  The dramatization of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ wasn’t greeted favorably by all religious groups, and was a frequent target of protesters.  Even the BBC got into the act, initially banning the double-album set on grounds of being “sacrilegious.”  In the U.S., the album hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1971, with Murray Head’s single of the title song reaching No. 14 Pop and Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t’ Know How to Love Him” not far behind at No. 28.  Helen Reddy’s simultaneous cover of the ballad made it all the way to No. 13.

With the musical’s theatrical roots always in evidence, it wasn’t long before unauthorized stagings of the record album began to crop up around the world.  (For Murray Head’s part, he would do even better with a later song from a Tim Rice concept album.  “One Night in Bangkok,” from the musical and album Chess, hit No. 1 in multiple countries around the world and No. 3 in the U.S. in 1984.)  The first authorized concert production arrived in the U.S. on July 11, 1971, with Elliman reprising the role of Mary Magdalene opposite Jeff Fenholt’s Jesus and Carl Anderson’s Judas.  The subsequent 1971 Broadway staging featured controversial direction by Hair’s Tom O’Horgan and a star-making performance from Ben Vereen as Judas.  Fenholt and Elliman again took part, as did Barry Dennen, the concept album’s Pilate.  The Broadway show ran for a healthy 711 performances.  The 1973 U.K. staging bested that, however, with director Jim Sharman’s production  (starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and David Bowie pal Dana Gillespie as Mary) lasting a then-record-breaking eight years in the West End.  Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen all took part in Norman Jewison’s 1973 film version, which cast Ted Neeley as Jesus, a role he would revisit in the ensuing years.

Productions have never ceased of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s singular work.  Since the worldwide sensation of Jesus Christ Superstar, concept albums of theatrical works have continued to proliferate, with Rice finding success with album-to-stage translations of Evita (1976, with Lloyd Webber) and Chess (1984, with ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson).  Of course, Lloyd Webber went on to Cats and Phantom of the Opera, and Rice found some of his greatest success penning Academy Award-winning songs for Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Lion King.  Though Lloyd Webber and Rice haven’t written a full-fledged musical since Evita, the pair have reunited in recent years on pop songs, film songs (including another Oscar winner, “You Must Love Me,” for Evita) and even new material for a 2011 London stage version of The Wizard of Oz.

The remastered Superstar arrives in the U.S. from Verve Records, successor to Universal’s Decca Broadway label, today.  You can order below!  (Pay no attention to Amazon’s oddly-spelled Superstarr (sic) and incorrect cover art.)

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar (MCA MKPS 2011/2, MAPS 207 5/6, 1970 – reissued Universal/Verve, 2012)

CD 1

  1. Overture
  2. Heaven On Their Minds
  3. What’s The Buzz? / Strange Thing Mystifying
  4. Everything’s Alright
  5. This Jesus Must Die
  6. What’s The Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
  7. Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
  8. Pilate’s Dream
  9. The Temple
  10. This Jesus Must Die
  11. I Don’t Know How To Love Him
  12. Damned For All Time / Blood Money

CD 2

  1. The Last Supper
  2.  Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
  3. The Arrest
  4. Peter’s Denial
  5. Pilate and Christ
  6. King Herod’s Song
  7. Judas’s Death
  8.  Trial Before Pilate (Including The 39 Lashes)
  9.  Superstar
  10. Crucifixion
  11.  John Nineteen: Forty – One

Written by Joe Marchese

August 7, 2012 at 09:58

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