Ted Neeley, the original lead in “Jesus Christ Superstar”, is back four decades on as the son of God in the hit musical in Rome, and hopes Pope Francis will be in the audience.
The pontiff will be “just down the street and we’re hoping he’s going to come visit us and see the show. I think he’s a wonderful, wonderful man,” an enthusiastic 70-year-old Neely told AFP between rehearsals of the world-famous rock opera.
The Texan musician and actor has appeared in other works, including Quentin Tarantino’s 2013 film “Django Unchained”, but his heart still lies in the role of 33-year-old Christ, which “gets better and better each time”, he said.
The 1973 film was controversial with Catholic groups, but even before pope Paul VI watched and blessed it, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s catchy melodies and lyrics had won a wide following — as had blue-eyed, fair-haired Neeley.
“So many people saw the film as children when it came out in the ’70s, and watch it every year at Easter time and Christmas time, that they tell me when they think of Jesus they see my face!” Neeley says with a grin.
“I’m not Jesus, I’m a rock-and-roll drummer who screams high notes for a living,” he adds, belting out a long high note to prove his point.
The director of the Italian production, Massimo Romeo Piparo, said Good Friday had been chosen for opening night because “it’s an ideal show for Easter because it brings together lay people and Catholics.”
While I can’t tell if Neeley still has the musical chops to pull this off, he clearly had the right stuff in 2006, when he launched a “farewell tour.” The video below can still raise hairs on the back of my neck. He’s just that good.