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Originally written as a concept album, Jesus Christ Superstar was Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's second attempt at a "Rock Opera", their first being a popular but less successful work called Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
With Jesus Christ Superstar (or JCS as it's become known by fans), the two were thrust firmly into the limelight, partly because of the innovative and beautifully crafted songs, and partly because of their often controversial handling of this sacred story. The songs recount the seven days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus as told from the perspective of a confused, frightened and ultimately remorseful Judas.

The title song "Superstar" was recorded by Murray Head and released as a single, with the instrumental "John 19:41" on the B side. The U.K. release on 21 November 1969, was followed a couple of weeks later in the USA on 1 December 1969. By the following year, the album was complete and was released in 1970 with Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame) singing the title role of Jesus, and Murray Head singing Judas. It was hugely successful and led to plans for a stage production which opened on 12 October 1971 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York and was the first musical by Rice and Lloyd Webber to be produced on the professional stage. It opened the following year in London's West End*.

Meanwhile, after his successful protrayal as Pilate both on the concept recording in London, and the Broadway stage debut, Barry Dennen left to join the filming of his next project, "Fiddler on the Roof" directed by Norman Jewison.
In one of their conversations, Barry mentioned his recent work on JCS and, finding it an interesting idea, Jewison asked for a copy of the album. . . . .


Barry Dennen poses outside the Mark Hellinger
Theater during the Broadway debut


The original concept album cover


Cast illustration from the original album booklet

 

JCS Trivia:
After the concept album was recorded, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice discovered, to their horror that a small part of Pilate's dialog had been erased from the master tapes. Barry Dennen was no longer available so Murray Head stepped in and recorded the vital missing words "this un-for-tu-nate" on the album.

Neither the concept album, nor the stage productions included the song "Could We Start Again Please?", which was written later specifically for the movie when it was felt that Mary Magdalene and apostle Peter needed more vocal opportunities.

 

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