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Every time I look at you I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned;
Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation—
Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication!
...
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ! Who are You? What have You sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar, do You think You're what they say You are?
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A Rock Opera and (subverted?) Passion Play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Originally released as a Concept Album in 1970 (when Lloyd Webber and Rice were still in their very early twenties, no less!), it made its way to the Broadway and London stage in 1971, and was adapted into a film directed by Norman Jewison in 1973. An updated version was recorded sometime around 2000 by Webber's Really Useful Group for PBS. A filmed version of the UK arena tour starring Tim Minchin as Judas was released on DVD and digital in 2012, and a live adaptation starting John Legend as Jesus, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper as Herod that aired on NBC in 2018. The show lives on in stage productions and tours (and even non-theatrical tribute albums from fans who were more attracted to it as an album than a show) to this day. Inspired by The Four Gospels of The Bible (specifically the arrival in Jerusalem and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus), it chronicles the last seven days of Jesus' life, focusing mainly on the characters of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. It's regarded among Andrew Lloyd Webber's best works. It's a pseudo-sequel to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, though this took a bit more liberty with the source material and is considerably less playful.

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Depending on the production (and productions can be wildly different), the actors and settings in the show are portrayed with blends of modern and biblical-era clothing and motifs, running with the idea of Jesus being a rockstar-like figure (something not always appreciated by the Moral Guardians), the Apostles being counter-cultural radicals, and the Romans dressing in black leather and taking a Big Brother approach to running The Empire. The 2000 filmed version updates the visual metaphors- specifically, setting it in a modern-day dystopic version of the Roman Empire with Nazi-esque guards, where Jesus' followers appear to be a street gang, seen toting submachine guns and assault rifles at times. The 2012 arena tour version and 2018 live broadcast both evoke the Occupy movement, the former more on the nose than the latter. The plot is the same, but with different things emphasized in different productions.

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Tracklist

Side One
  1. "Overture"
  2. "Heaven On Their Minds"
  3. "What's The Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying"
  4. "Everything's Alright"
  5. "This Jesus Must Die"

Side Two

  1. "Hosanna"
  2. "Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem"
  3. "Pilate's Dream"
  4. "The Temple"
  5. "Everything's Alright (reprise)"
  6. "I Don't Know How To Love Him"
  7. "Damned For All Time/Blood Money"

Side Three

  1. "The Last Supper"
  2. "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)"
  3. "The Arrest"
  4. "Peter's Denial"
  5. "Pilate And Christ"
  6. "Herod's Song (Try It And See)"

Side Four

  1. "Judas' Death"
  2. "Trial Before Pilate (including the 39 Lashes)"
  3. "Superstar"
  4. "The Crucifixion"
  5. "John Nineteen: Forty-One"


What's the tropes? Tell me what's a-happening.

  • Ambiguous Ending:
    • The film ends shortly after the death of Jesus with the rest of the cast simply boarding the bus; Pilate, Mary Magdalene and Judas (last of all) look back wistfully. The matter of the resurrection is left unclear. The final shot shows the empty cross — with a shepherd and his sheep walking past it. This was unplanned by director Norman Jewison, who left it in since audiences could take it as a subtle hint to the resurrection if they wished.
    • Many productions leave some amount of ambiguity, but several have thrown in various hints that Jesus resurrected (such as ending with him on the cross, audibly drawing breath after dying; or just him coming out with the curtain call). According to movie/long-running stage Jesus Ted Neeley, this was a way of meeting Christian protestors in the middle.
    • In the 2000 version of "Superstar", it's unclear if Judas has come back as a demon after killing himself, or if Jesus is merely hallucinating due to blood loss (having been brutally whipped in the previous song.)
  • Ambiguously Gay: Pontius Pilate is mildly campy and "theatrical" in many productions following the original, to the point of flanderization when Monty Python did it too. This is probably due to the very flamboyant (and unashamed real life gay man) Barry Dennen, who created the role in the Concept Album, original stage production, and 1973 film, though ironically he is far campier as Barry-Dennen-about-to-play-Pilate in the Framing Device than he is as Pilate proper. Ben Daniels skirts the same line in the 2018 version, while Fred Johansen’s 2000 version leans more toward Pilate as played by BRIAN BLESSED! and Alexander Hanson’s in 2012 is simply a detached, wealthy bureaucrat.
    • This is also a frequent tack to take with King Herod (who was played as an outright Drag Queen in the first official stage production). This has grown less common over time in favor of making him The Barnum or even Camp Straight, with the camp merely a way of covering his straight horndog tendencies.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The 1973 film plays this up with King Herod of all people, adding an Ambiguously Jewish appearance (and, arguably, voice) to his stage-musical style song. He even flings bagels at Jesus when he chases Him away at the end of the song.
    • Might count as Fridge Brilliance, as the historical Herod Antipas was a thoroughly Romanized client king with connections to the imperial family.
    • The actor in the '73 film, Josh Mostel, is Zero Mostel's son, so it’s less ambiguous there, to put it lightly.
  • Anachronism Stew: Common in productions, which often blend together modern and biblical-era clothing and motifs.
    • In the 1973 film for instance, some characters like Mary Magdalene and Jesus, have decent costumes. Then you see the Roman guards, whose armor consists of purple tank tops, cargo pants, combat boots, AK 47s, and sticks. Other people for crowd scenes seemingly just walk onto the camera with whatever they're wearing.
      • Judas running away from TANKS.
      • Somewhat justified in that the film was set up as something a busload of hippies were putting on in the middle of the desert for some reason.
    • In the 2000 version, Jesus sees that the Temple has become a Las Vegas-like Tourist Trap, especially with Poker games, slot machines, Professional Gamblers, TVs, fire-breathers and a guard with mohawk hair (though this is perhaps justified in it being a more modern adaptation).
    • Even more justified than the anachronisms in the 2000 version are those in the 2012 arena tour, as it appears to have been transplanted to some kind of Occupy camp (Occupy Jerusalem, perhaps...?), but the Temple in that version has been turned into a nightclub, complete with drag queens dressed as angels and devils, and topless dancers.
    • Alternatively, some productions may be (relatively) faithful to the time period and setting for the most part... only to throw that all out the window and depict King Herod's scene like a Las Vegas nightclub. This heightens the contrasting juxtaposition of this one comic relief song and ends up making it even funnier as a result.
    • The lyrics are often intentionally anachronistic as well, peppered with slang and slogans that don't exactly evoke Israel in 4 BC. One of the running themes is the portrayal of Jesus as a 20th century celebrity or activist.
      • "The Arrest" in particular is phrased in a very modern way, and usually staged as a sort of reporters' scrum with a scandal-plauged celebrity who has no comment ("Do you think that you may retire?/Did you think you would get much higher?/How do you view your coming trial?"). Caiaphas, in turn, refers to Jesus making claims in "all your handouts."
      • Taken to the next step in the NBC live concert production, where some of the crowd in "The Arrest" (as well as one of Peter's accusers in "Peter's Denial") are recording the incident with smartphone cameras.
    • Even the actual lyrics get in on this sometimes. In the title song, Judas references mass communication (and directly acknowledges that it doesn't exist yet), and the Muslim prophet Muhammad (who wasn't born until centuries after Jesus died). Justified, as Judas is dead when he sings this, and possibly a ghost, angel, or demon, depending on the production — temporal laws need not apply.
  • Angrish: "Don’t believe — our good — save Him — if I could!"
  • Angry Black Man: Simon and Judas in the 1973 version, though Simon is a less traditional version of the trope (an ecstatic fanboy whose anger is tempered by his enthusiasm for Jesus).
    • Caiaphas in the 2000 revival and 2018 broadcast. Also a Badass Ba.
    • Averted with Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas in the 2018 version, who’s more a Stressed-Out Black Man.
  • Angry Mob Song: "WE NEED HIM CRUCIFIED, IT'S ALL YOU HAVE TO DO! CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM!"
  • Anti-Villain
    • Judas, portrayed with sympathetic motivation throughout.
    • Pilate too, much as in the canonical gospels.
    • Caiaphas and the other priests. Their actions are cruel and ruthless, but they genuinely believe that they are preventing a rebellion that could otherwise bring down Roman retaliation on Judea.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Hey JC, won't you die for me?"
  • Because Destiny Says So: Essentially the entire work - Jesus knows he's meant to die, and his and Judas' increasing frustration that they can't prevent/avert what is meant to happen is what causes them to butt heads at the Last Supper. Best summed up in this line by Jesus (to Pilate, in an attempt to ease Pilate's moral conflict at condemning who he knows to be an innocent man).
    Jesus: You have nothing in your hands. Any power you have comes to you from far beyond. Everything is fixed, and you can't change it.
  • Becoming the Mask: Jesus, according to Judas:
    Jesus!
    You started to believe, the things they say of you.
    You really do believe this talk of God is true!
    And all the good you've done, will soon get swept away.
    YOU begun to matter more, than the things you say!
    • Becomes a metaphysical example in the 1973 version, as it occurs right after the scene where the hippie actors step out of the bus and put on their costumes to become the biblical characters.
  • Berserk Button: One of the most epic in all musical theatre.
  • Bigger Than Jesus: Er... Actually "bigger than Johnnote  was".
  • Big "NO!": The 2000 film version of "Pilate & Christ"
    Pilate: You're Herod's Race!
    Mary: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    Pilate: You're Herod's Case!
    • The 2012 Broadway revival has Mary react this way to witnessing Judas' suicide.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The 2012 British Arena tour version has Herod's song, performed by Chris Moyles, be a Take That! at ITV1 style Talent Shows replete with showing Herod's judgement of Jesus as a false god being based on TV viewer's votes. Guess how Ben Forster this version's Jesus was selected?
    • Used again in the Australian Arena Tour, with Herod now played by Andrew O'Keefe, host of the long running series Deal or No Deal, who essentially spends every minute on stage making fun of himself.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: "It isn't blood money, it's a fee, nothing more."
  • Blatant Lies: "It's not that I object to her profession..."
    • Judas does this a lot. "Jesus wouldn't mind that I was here with you!"
  • Bookends: Pay attention to that little tune that is played at the very beginning. The same is played at the very end.
    • Also a very subtle example with Judas - the first thing he says in the show is "my mind is clearer now", and one of the last things he says (while still alive) is "my mind is in darkness now".
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: A wicked part in The Arrest:
    Crowds: Come with us to see Caiaphas!
    You'll just love the high priest's house!
    You'll just love seeing Caiaphas!
    You'll just die in the high priest's house!
    • Also, arguably, the way the last line of the chorus changes during "Hosanna":
    Hey JC, JC, won't you smile at me?
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, you're all right by me.
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, won't you fight for me?
    ...
    Hey JC, JC, won't you die for me?
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The 2018 NBC version has Jesus and his followers enter through the audience for Hosanna, and audience members can be seen singing along and straining to be touched. Are they reaching for Jesus, or John Legend?
  • Broken Record:
    • "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happenin'."
    • "Everything's alright, yes, everything's alright, yes..."
    • "You have murdered me! Murdered me murdered me murdered me murdered me murdered me murdered me murdered..."
  • BSoD Song: Lines from "Judas' Death" and "Gethsemane" used to be the page quotes for the trope in question.
  • Buffy Speak: "...than John was when John did his baptism thing?"
  • Call-Forward: Overlaps with Ironic Echo and Dark Reprise. There are quite a few to "Superstar," particularly the chorus of "Jesus Christ, Superstar!" during "This Jesus Must Die" and Judas' "Every time I look at you I don't understand" while he's fighting with Jesus in "The Last Supper."
    • Jesus gets a brief line from "Gethsemane" ("After all, I've tried for three years... seems like thirty...") in between the two halves of "The Temple."
  • Camp: Pilate is highly, shall we say, "exaggerated", especially in the 39 lashes.
  • Camp Gay: Herod, in many productions. In the 1973 film, he's practically an expy of Elton John.
    • Also subverted in some of these; it's a façade that he keeps to hide his actual accent.
      • In Real Life, Herod was a notorious womanizer, and the whole Camp Gay thing was something his detractors made up to discredit him. Thus, some productions (including the 2000 film) now portray Herod as a Seedy Hollywood Agent/1980s yuppie-type who seems to be tolerating Jesus' presence as a favor to a friend.
    • The 1996 London Cast Recording got Alice Cooper to sing the Herod song, who later makes an appearance in the 2018 televised stage production. Make of that what you will.
    • In the original West End production, Richard O'Brien played Herod as an Elvis Impersonator. It did not go down well, and he left after one night in the role.
  • Captain Obvious: When Groucho Marx attended a showing with Elton John, he remarked "This is sure to offend the Jews" in regards to the crucifixion scene. note 
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Jesus in "Gethsemane"
    • Judas in every song, especially as played by Carl Anderson.
    • Pilate in every song, really.
    • If you can't find teeth marks in the props after Herod's performance, it wasn't done right.
    • Justified in that this is a rock opera. Both Rock and Opera are known for not exactly being realist drama.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Simon gets an entire song dedicated to how he and the other hangers-on think Jesus is there to violently overthrow the Romans.
    • When the play caused controversy, a British clergyman attempted to defend it by urging people to overlook the long hair and beards (which were most likely historically correct) and instead listen to the lyrics (which, apparently unbeknownst to him, are often subversive to Christian beliefs).
  • Composite Character:
    • Mary Magdalene in the musical's story combines elements of herself with that of Mary, the sister of Martha, whose "waste" of costly perfume on Jesus was derided by Judas.
    • Pilate himself has "Pilate's Dream" and sings about it, instead of his wife, though some productions like the 1973 film include her as a non-speaking role.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: Pilate.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Judas regards himself as one at the end.
  • Crowd Song: "Hosanna" and "Simon Zealotes".
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to Webber & Rice's earlier Joseph as well as the dueling musical Godspell.
    • The 2000 version compared to the original incarnations. Webber said that he wanted to give a new design for the musical, saying that the funky disco and sequined leisure suits were fresh for its time, but he wanted to make it into something the younger people could relate to.
    • The 2018 NBC performance takes place in a harsh, barren city-scape, with many of the characters and musicians dressed in leather or punk attire.
    • It's reached the point now where it's probably fair to say that each new professional production will more often than not be this to whatever came before it, often justified by keeping up to date with the state of the modern world. Make of that what you will...
  • Dark Reprise: Several, as melodies & leitmotifs recur throughout (typical for an ALW composition). "Judas' Death" alone is comprised of dark snippets of "Damned for All Time/Blood Money," "I Don't Know How to Love Him," and "Heaven on Their Minds."
    • The climactic "Trial Before Pilate" is a dark reprise of the Overture.
    • "Pilate and Christ" is this to "Hosanna". The latter is a Crowd Song sung by Jesus' adoring followers, while part of the reprise is sung by these same followers after they've turned against him.
    • The song that closes the musical, "John Nineteen: Forty-One", is an instrumental version of "Gethsemane" that plays after Jesus has died on the cross.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Herod's clique in the 1973 version, Jesus' clique in the 2000 version. In both cases a Psychopathic Manchild surrounding himself with yes-men. In the 2000 case also rife with constant infighting, with Judas versus Mary and Jesus versus Simon trying to outmaneuver each other for power as the build-up for Judas betraying Jesus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Judas, in the 1973 version.
  • Demoted to Extra: Aside from Judas, Peter and Simon, the disciples are simply members of the company who come across as a group of naive, blood thirsty or lazy idiots, depending on the scene.
  • Den of Iniquity: The Temple in the song of the same name, as portrayed in the theatrical and stage productions, complete with suggestively-dressed women and all sorts of shady characters. This really sets off Jesus' Berserk Button as He chases them all out.
    Jesus: My Temple should be a house of prayer! But you have made it a den of thieves! GET OUT! GET OUT!
  • Divine Race Lift: A rather downplayed version in most versions. Even though Jesus was a Middle Eastern man, most versions of Jesus Christ Superstar cast fair-skinned white actors in the role of Jesus. But there are fair-skinned Middle Eastern people who can pass for Englishmen or Americans, and the historical Jesus would probably have been no darker than a Sicilian or Southern European man. Played straight in the 2018 televised stage production which features an African American man, John Legend, in the role of Jesus.
    • The rest of the cast is traditionally played by a variety of races, following precedent set by the 1973 cast (with a black Judas and a Hapa Mary Magdalene).
  • Doublespeak: It isn't blood money. It's a fee, nothing more. Right, Judas?
  • Downer Ending: The story ends after the crucifixion, so it can seem a bit depressing if you're unfamiliar with the supplementary materials.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: "Pilate's Dream"
    Then I saw thousands of millions crying for this man
    And then I heard them mentioning my name...and leaving me the blame.
  • Driven to Suicide: Judas, natch.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Last Supper." Also, "Overture", "Heaven on Their Minds", "What's the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying", and "Everything's Alright" are all performed as one extremely long song, clocking in at about 17 minutes (!)
  • Evil Costume Change: While they are always antagonistic, in the film Caiaphas and Annas put on blood red robes for Jesus' trial before Pilate.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, Annas.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Caiaphas, the high priest responsible for Jesus' trial, is usually a bass.
    • This is emphasized by pairing him with Annas, who's usually a countertenor (the highest voice type for a male) or even a crosscast contralto.
  • Exact Words / Historical In-Joke:
    Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel! / You'll be remembered forever for this."
  • External Retcon: Retells the story from Judas's perspective.
  • Face Palm: Judas's reaction to Simon's song in the 2000 version.
    • Jesus at the start of Herod's song in the same version.
  • Faceless Goons: In the 2000 version, the Roman soldiers wear full-length coats and face-hiding helmets that have invited Darth Vader comparisons.
  • Fan Disservice: Oper Bonn's lashing scene. Shirtless Mark Seibert as Jesus? Yum. Shirtless Mark being lashed, screaming out with every hit, then falling over to reveal a bloody, mangled back? Not.
  • Fanservice: The 2000 filmed version has shirtless Pilate and dominatrix angels.
    • Not to mention the apostles in leather pants. And Jesus's tight cargo pants. And the entire temple scene.
    • In the 1973 version, the high priests all go shirtless. And Caiaphas is ripped.
    • The 1973 version also has a rare occurrence of male Absolute Cleavage, in the form of Judas' shirt.
    • The Oper Bonn production has a shirtless Jesus in the background of "I Don't Know How to Love Him".
    • On the female side, the 1973 version has prostitutes dancing provocatively in the Temple scene. Doubles as Fan Disservice because of the context and the stressful music.
    • The 2018 NBC performance features Judas wearing tight pants and a low-cut shirt. During his trial, Jesus also wears a low-cut undershirt. Herod is surrounded by scantily-clad dancing girls during his song.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a Passion Play. It Was His Sled territory by default.
  • Framing Device:
    • In the 1973 film, the entire musical is a performance by a bunch of hippies in the desert.
    • The 2012 arena tour had a Occupy Wall Street feel, complete with the hashtag "Follow The 12" and the Sanhedrin and Romans wearing business suits and British court wigs.
    • In the 2018 NBC musical, the performance is framed as goths and punks in a harsh urban setting.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: At the end of the 1973 film, after the bus drives away, you just make out a shadowy figure (possibly Jesus) slowly walking through the desert. It's easier to see on the big screen, but if you pause at just the right moment, you can make it out on your TV, too.
  • Funny Background Event: In the 2000 version, when Jesus says "This is my blood you drink, this is my body you eat" one of the disciples has a Squick reaction, throwing the bread on the table and wiping off his hands on his pants.
    • Judas' reactions are often better than whatever's going on in the foreground in that movie.
  • Get Out!: Jesus screams this to the marketers in the Temple in "The Temple". In "The Last Supper", Jesus screams this to Judas to get him to do what his heart set out to do. In "King Herod's Song", Herod tells Jesus, "Get out of my life!"
  • Ghost Song: Judas comes back to sing the title song as Jesus is marched up to the crucifixion site. (See page quote).
  • God Test: Quoth Herod to Jesus, "Prove to me that you're no fool/Walk upon my swimming pool."
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The show's not quite subtle about its color palette. Jesus is always in white and khaki. Judas is in red and, especially after his betrayal, black. Mary Magdalene is usually in red, but changes to white for "Could We Start Again, Please?". (In the 2018 NBC version, she wears orange.) The High Priests wear black. Pilate wears purple (which denotes royalty) as do his family and soldiers. The apostles are usually in greens and blues.
    • Oddly done in different ways in the movies. In the '70s, Judas returns as an angel, dressed all in white with a wing-like fringe on his arms. In the 2000 version, Judas and his backup are clad all in red leather, thus implying that he's a demon.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: "The Last Supper" sees Jesus and Judas go up against each other in notes so high it would take a miracle to duplicate.
  • Heavy Metal: "Overture", "Heaven on Their Minds", and "Damned For All Time" all have what was, for 1970, very surreal-sounding and/or lightning-fast guitar work.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The High Priests and Pharisees. In the 2018 NBC performance, Judas also wears leather pants and a leather vest.
  • Heroic BSoD: Many characters. Most notably, Judas becomes increasingly conflicted with his role in Jesus' life before being driven to suicide near the end of the work. Pilate, likewise, has a breakdown when he condemns Jesus to death in accordance with the public's request ("Trial by Pilate"). Jesus knows struggles with the knowledge of his imminent death but knows he has to because that's what he was born to do ("Gethsemane").
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: Jesus in Gethsemane.
  • Hippie Jesus: Christ, as well as the Apostles in the 1973 version. At one point, after Judas riles Jesus by suggesting he not spend time with ex-prostitutes, one of the followers says "Hey, cool it, man!"
  • Hippie Van: The 1973 version has the cast arriving in a long bus.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Inverted. The key individuals responsible for Jesus's death (Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate) are given much more sympathetic depictions than almost anywhere else. Herod's still a jerk, though.
    • In the 2000 version, Caiaphas is made a touch more sympathetic yet — he's visibly very conflicted about what to do about Jesus, and it's pressure from the other priests that convinces him, "He is daaangerous!"
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mary Magdalene.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Pilate's dream.
  • Ironic Echo: The first time we hear the phrase "Jesus Christ, Superstar" is during "This Jesus Must Die," when the crowd is cheering for Jesus. Then the mob turns on him after his arrest and we hear the full song as sung by Judas...
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Violently defied in the 2000 version of the last supper, as one of the apostles reacts with disgust against the food while Jesus sings "this is my blood you drink, this is my body you eat".
  • Incredibly Long Note: The climactic Metal Scream ("See... how... I... DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEE") in "Gethsemane" can fall under this. The champion is probably Steve Balsamo, from the 1996 London cast; on the soundtrack album, he holds the note a full twenty seconds.
  • Informed Ability: In the 1973 version, we see no basis for the claim that Maria Magdalene is "calm and cool and running every show." (The 2000 version has the same lyrics, but the character now fits with them.)
  • Insanity Defense: Pilate tries this on Jesus. How much he really is insane depends on production.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Take another look at that track list, specifically the titles of tracks 4 and 5...
  • I Want My Mommy!: Jesus, in the 1970 album, the 2000 production, and the 2018 NBC performance: "Where is my mother? WHERE IS MY MOTHER?!"
  • Jerkass God: While ultimately heroic as always (assuming his death counted for something in the end, which here is debatable), this version of Jesus is hardly the image of Incorruptible Pure Pureness most people are used to seeing. He screams at people to leave him alone, takes a nihilistic point of view a distressing number of times, and at one point is cuttingly sarcastic to his own followers:
    Jesus: For all you care / This wine could be my blood / For all you care / This bread could be my body.
    • Jesus sees his Father as this as well, demanding to know during "Gethsemane" what justice there could be in his having to die, receiving no answer. By the end of the song he is quite bitter, and sulkily tells God to send the mob to arrest him "before I change my mind."
    • Could actually be justified in Jesus' case, when you think about it. After all, when someone knows that they have to give their life up for the greater good but doesn't feel ready for it at all, while also being surrounded by fair-weather disciples and enemies who are hell-bent on killing them just because of their teachings (and the fact that they claim to be the Messiah), could anyone blame the person for being more than frustrated later on? If anything, this complex portrayal of Jesus serves to show the audience that he's more than just God on Earth; he's a fleshed-out individual who is just as human as he is divine.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: Jesus Christ Superstar is (among other things) built like a point-counterpoint debate regarding who and what Jesus was. While Mary Magdalene and the apostle Simon represent two very different versions of Jesus Was Way Cool, Pontius Pilate goes down the Jesus Was Crazy road - trying to defend Jesus by arguing that he's insane.
    • Note that the "cool vs crazy" debate is not about being for or against Jesus. Pilate is trying to save him, while Caiaphas, who is trying to get him crucified, subscribes to the "Jesus is cool" camp.
    • Meanwhile, Judas claims his "admiration for [Jesus] hasn't died," and yet complains about how he is turning increasingly mentally unstable under the pressure from his believers.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Even Caiaphas is impressed.
    Caiaphas: One thing I'll say for him, Jesus is cool.
    • The 2000 and 2018 versions (probably because the original lyric had entered Totally Radical territory) instead have this line delivered by a nameless priest, who isn't so impressed:
    Priest: Infantile sermons, the multitude drools!
    • According to Tim Rice's autobiography "Oh, what a circus!", the reason for the change of that line was purely a matter of style: he wanted to remove a false rhyme. But, after a friend of his son wrote him about it, he concluded that sometimes technique is less important than a visceral approachnote .
  • Kangaroo Court: All three of Jesus's trials; at the hands of Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The 1973 film presents Judas' death this way. He shouts "murdered me", ending with "murdered..." just as he hangs himself. In the 2000 film, however, he breaks down crying mid-sentence and actually kills himself some time later. Technically, he still dies with his sentence unfinished.
  • Lampshade Hanging: of Technology Marches On in "Superstar".
    If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation—
    Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication!
  • Large Ham: Herod. Dear God, Herod.
  • Little "No": Pilate's wife shakes her head when Pilate orders Jesus flogged to appease the mob in the 1973 film.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During "Simon Zealotes" in the 1973 film version, Roman soldiers can be seen gathering to observe the commotion. Judas is also in the background, visibly disturbed by the events before storming off during the next song, "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Medium Awareness: When Jesus is being taken to trial, one of his fans confidently shouts, "You'll escape in the final reel!" Unfortunately ...
  • Metal Scream: Jesus and Judas across productions, dating back to Ian Gillan and Murray Head respectively on the original Concept Album. Ted Neeley (as Jesus) and Carl Anderson, an understudy for Ben Vereen (as Judas) became famous for the roles on stage and film, since Gillan and Head had become too successful as musicians to perform, and duplicating their vocal range can be quite difficult for other actors. Interestingly, Murray Head is not black; Ben Vereen and subsequently Carl Anderson pioneered that idea, in no small part because Anderson simply had the voice for the notes.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Jesus and Judas in the 1973 film.
  • Mood Whiplash: A disturbing amount for a religion-based story. The juxtaposition of Mary Magdalene's sweet anthem "Everything's Alright" with Judas's angry accusations against her probably qualifies. An even better example is the jarring shift (at least on the concept album) from King Herod's comical music-hall number to Judas's histrionic reaction to seeing the scourging of Jesus.
    • Even within "Herod's Song," which turns from camp happy to suddenly menacing in the final verse.
  • Movie Bonus Song: An unusual example. Not only are there two ("Could We Start Again, Please," added for the Broadway production, and "Then We Are Decided," a short Villain Song between Annas and Caiaphas added for the movie), but the latter isn't really an Award-Bait Song.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hoo boy. Judas does not take this whole betrayal thing well.
  • Mythology Gag: Simon indirectly quotes the doxology from the Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer.
    Simon: You'll get the power and the glory! Forever and ever and ever!
  • The Needs of the Many: The priest's stated rationale for their actions:
    Caiaphas: For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die!
  • Never My Fault:
    • Pilate washing his hands, as he does in the Bible, symbolizes that he feels himself innocent in Jesus' death. Whereas in the Bible it's because he had the crowd make the final choice, here it's because Jesus failed to defend himself.
    • This is how Judas' My God, What Have I Done? turns into a Rage Against the Heavens. Not only does he blame God for making him betray Jesus, but also for his own suicide.
    Judas: You have murdered me!
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Extremely pronounced. This and Hair are probably the most New Age Retro Hippie plays around (as well as the Trope Makers for "rock musicals"). Not really "retro" when the film / play / soundtrack was first produced, but Jesus' followers are portrayed as counter-cultural hippies and Judas and the Zealots are portrayed as members of the New Left. This is especially pronounced in the film.
  • Nice Hat: In the 1973 film, Caiaphas and the other priests have some extraordinary headgear, to the point where the Sanhedrin looks more than a little like a Brotherhood of Funny Hats.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Herod in the 2000 version is Florenz Ziegfeld.
  • No Indoor Voice: Judas (in the style of Carl Anderson, at least; Zubin Varla from the 1996 London cast recording is also prone to this).
  • Oh, Crap!: Pontius Pilate in the 1973 film when the angry mob appears at the start of Jesus's trial.
    • Pilate also gets this expression in the 2000 version when he realizes that Jesus is the same man from his dream - the very man who is destined to be killed. Ditto in the 2018 version: while interrogating Jesus, Pilate hears the fragment of melody from "Pilate's Dream," and takes on the Oh, Crap! look as he dramatically backpedals.
      • In the 2000 version, Jesus, Mary, and Judas all make this face at each other after the crowd in "Hosanna" sings its final line.
      • Also in the 2000 version, when Jesus is tied down on the cross and turns his head to see one soldier hand the other a nail.
  • One Steve Limit: Simon Peter is just called Peter to distinguish him from Simon. The other Apostle named Judas (aka Jude) is never named. Mary Magdalene is the only Mary included out of at least three.
  • Ominous Multiple Screens: In the 2000 version, the High Priests have these in their boardroom, switching on to show Jesus and his adoring crowds as the "Hosanna" chorus starts.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The High Priests and Pharisees.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Defied in "Gethsemane." Jesus calls out God, pointing out how unfair it is that he's being asked to die with no explanation and no reassurance that it will even do anything. We know it will, but Jesus doesn't. And he does it anyway.
    Jesus: God, Thy will is hard, but You hold every card. [...] Take me now, before I change my mind.
  • Only Sane Man: Judas, at least from his perspective, likewise Caiaphas from his, and Pilate from his.
  • Original Cast Precedent: The high Metal Scream in almost every version of "Gethsemane"? Not written in the sheet music. Just the basic melody and an ad-libbed note by Ian Gillan.
    • This trope is mostly averted in a general sense, however. Superstar is a show that has changed drastically over the years, as different productions will vary wildly in terms of staging, costumes, lyrics, song order, casting, Alternate Character Interpretation, and even most of the tropes themselves. You will note that most of the trope entries on this page specify which production they apply to, because they have to, making it extremely difficult to form a cohesive list of the tropes associated with the play in general.
  • Passion Play
  • Prophecy Twist: The musical is filled with references to Jesus' divinity, resurrection, and redemption of humankind.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Varying with the versions.
    • In the 1973 version only, Herod is this. Jesus is not - although some of his lyrics point in this direction, he is still portrayed as a dignified and compassionate person on the whole.
    • In the 2000 version, Jesus is portrayed in a quite different light, putting him squarely in the Psychopathic Manchild category - same lyrics, different body language and facial expressions and so on. Consider "Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem," where Simon sings about power and glory and Jesus retorts about how Simon and the others have no understanding of power or glory. In the 1973 version, Jesus looks dignified and genuinely sad over the apostles' shallow understanding. In the 2000 version, Jesus looks jealous, with an attitude of "How dare you steal my show! I'm the prophet here, not you! Me, me, me!" Which comes across as especially petty as Simon just led a counterstrike that pushed back a Roman attack, arguably saving Jesus and the others.
      • On the other hand, one should also note that when the soldiers first arrive (apparently sent by the Sanhedrin), Jesus was trying to calm things down. He abhors violent revolution. While Simon certainly prevented Jesus from being arrested with his counterstrike, he also went against Jesus's efforts to avoid violence. Jesus may be less jealous than just plain angry at Simon for advocating violent revolution.
  • Psychotic Smirk: In the 2000 film, one of the priests does this multiple times during This Jesus Must Die.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • FOOLS! YOU! HAVE NO PERCEPTION!
    • WHAT! DO! YOU MEAN. BY. THAT? THAT WAS NOT. AN ANSWER!
      • The 2012 arena tour has some fun with this section by portraying Pilate as a rich judge interrupted during his morning workout at home. Every break between those words is filled by him doing a push-up.
    • Alice Cooper in the 2018 performance of "Herod's Song": "GET...OUT...OF MY...LIFE!"
  • Putting on the Reich: In the 2000 version, Pilate's uniform is purposefully reminiscent of the Gestapo.
    • In the Moscow stage production, the High Priests first appear in riot gear and then perform a song to the tune of "This Jesus Must Die" dressed in black suits with red Soviet armbands.
  • The Queen's Latin: Pilate.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Done literally by Jesus in "Gethsemane," and Judas in "Judas' Death."
  • Recycled In Space: The story of Jesus... IN THE SEVENTIES!
    • Or the story of Jesus... in the ghetto and coated in Ho Yay!
    • Or in the UK 2012 Arena tour... in Occupy London!
  • Refrain from Assuming: The opening song that Judas sings is "Heaven on Their Minds," not "Listen Jesus" or any variation thereupon.
    • Jesus' Heroic BSoD Song is simply "Gethsemane," not "I Only Want To Say," though it is sometimes called "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)."
    • The finale is simply "Superstar," not "Jesus Christ Superstar."
  • Repeat Cut: The 1973 film includes several repeated zooms to Judas sitting on a hilltop, before he launches into the first song of the movie.
  • The Resenter: Judas.
  • Royal Brat: Herod.
  • Rule of Cool: The new stage adaptation runs on this. For example, during the performance of Pilate's Dream, Pilate is surrounded by government officials who move in slow motion, then speed up, Zack Snyder-style. On stage.
  • Scenery Porn: Norman Jewison really took advantage of filming in Israel for the first film.
  • Screw Destiny: Both Judas and Jesus are sorely tempted to try this, but both succumb to You Can't Fight Fate for different reasons.
    Judas: You want me to do it! What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition? Christ, you deserve it!
  • Shaming the Mob: Pilate lambasts the mob screaming for Jesus to be crucified, since he sees Jesus as a harmless crazy man being used as a scapegoat by the mob for the revolutionary rumblings his presence set off. Nearly half of Pilate's final song is calling the crowd hypocrites for praising Caesar, reminding them how much they hate Rome, and pointing out the Disproportionate Retribution they're forcing him to deal to Jesus.
    Pilate: I see no reason! I find no evil!
    This man is harmless, so why does he upset you?!
    He's just misguided! Thinks he's important!
    But to keep you vultures happy I will flog him!
  • Shaped Like Itself: "You liar! You Judas!"
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the 1973 film, when Jesus and the twelve apostles sit down for "The Last Supper," they all freeze for a moment in the exact poses depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of the same name. Movie fans have used this scene to identify exactly which actors are playing which apostles, since not all of them are identified by name in the film.
    • The Moscow stage production directly quotes Jesus' and Pilates' dialogue from The Master and Margarita.
    • The 2018 NBC production subtly homages Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 during “Hosanna”, with Jesus and his followers entering through the audience and interacting with them, as well as the string flourishes being played by female ensemblists (and Great Comet alumni) running with the group.
    • The original album musically references Krzstof Penderecki’s avant-garde Passion work “Utrenja: Ewangelia” during “Trial By Pilate/The 39 Lashes”- note the clattering percussion and the robotic, atonal way the crowd shouts “we have no king but Caesar” and “remember Caesar/you have a duty”, etc. Later productions lost some of this effect by giving the chorus more of a melody to shout to.
  • Shown Their Work: In the 2000 film, the Disciples make a textbook example of how small rebel groups behave, reminiscent of the French Revolution (during the title sequence, the graffiti includes both French revolutionary slogans and American 1960s slogans), of rebellions against the Nazis in 1930s Germany and later rebellions against communist takeovers throughout the world, and of the United States at various eras, including the Founding Fathers. The adrenalin-fueled excitement, intense male and female camraderie, search for empowerment through violent defiance, sexually aggressive clothing: all in accordance with sociological and historical research.
    • We now know that the Founding Fathers, after signing their names to the Declaration of Independence, then spent the night wenching and drinking themselves into unconsciousness: they knew that if their effort at independence failed, they had just signed their death warrants and possibly the death warrants of their families, and the adrenalin had to go somewhere. Later, in an archetypally American move, they demanded reimbursement for the money they'd spent wenching and drinking.
  • Silent Credits: In the 1973 film. Considering it's a musical, the effect is somewhat unnerving.
    • For Ted Neeley's 2015 Q&A tour with the film, they played a 1997 performance of "Superstar" over the credits (the last time he & Carl were together before his death).
  • Sissy Villain: Some portrayals of Herod.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: In the 2000 film, Herod does it in Herod's Song.
  • Skyward Scream: Several, usually combined with Epic Rocking and Milking the Giant Cow.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Depending on the production, the entire message of the play can be changed. The songs and script themselves are just general enough to paint Jesus or Judas as the protagonist to root for. Jesus can vary between being well, a pretty nice guy, to a snob who's all talk, or whether or not he is even actually the son of God. To this day people still aren't sure whether the play was intended to give a family friendly Christian story, or whether it was made to cast a more jaded light on it.
  • Slut-Shaming: Judas doesn't believe that Mary Magdalene (or "women of her kind") is an appropriate companion for Jesus.
  • Sound-Only Death: The 2018 concert doesn't actually show Judas hanging himself. He simply climbs up the scaffolding, wrapping clothes around his neck as a noose, and disappears offstage. We then see the ladder he was standing on fall over, but we don't actually see Judas himself.
  • Smug Snake: Annas and King Herod
  • Soprano and Gravel: Frequently used with Annas and Caiaphas, especially as performed by Kurt Yaghjian and Bob Bingham in the 1973 film.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The last two minutes or so of “Superstar” can be summarized as groovy music playing while very un-groovy things (Jesus being given the crown of thorns, forced to drag the cross, and abused by jeering crowds, all while still raw and bleeding from being flogged) happen.
  • Stealth Pun: Some particularly clever ones.
    • Not least the entirety of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" which, if listened to properly, is a song consisting almost entirely of innuendo.
    • Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel!"
    • Judas:(considering not betraying Jesus) "Christ, you deserve it!"
  • Suicide by Cop: Arguably, Jesus (in this story only). He knows he has to die to achieve what God wants, Pilate begs him to save himself, but he forces Pilate's hand as much as the mob does.
  • Summon Backup Dancers: Simon Zealotes does this. In the film, they appear out of thin air as the music kicks in.
    • Jesus also has this ability.
  • Surreal Horror: The crucifixion sounds this way on the original studio album, with dissonant piano jangling, electronic warp noises, and the sounds of the laughing crowd twisted into something demonic that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to The Shining. Downplayed in many later versions, where the actors playing the crowd merely laugh- cruelly, but not in a terrifying manner.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Pilate spends the entire show (and many of the lyrics of the First and Second Trials) hating his job. One can hardly blame him when he finally throws in the towel.
    Pilate: I wash my hands of your demolition! Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!
  • A Taste of the Lash: The 39 lashes... in song. Although, in the 2000 version, Pilate gradually loses his composure as he counts out each lashing; by the mid-twenties, he's visibly flinching.
  • Tears of Fear: In the 2000 version, Pilate is so upset by his dream that he starts crying by the end of the song. Compare this to the 1973 version, where Pilate is merely confused and only slightly disturbed.
  • They Just Dont Get It: The entire point of the song "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Caiaphas and Annas.
  • Trash the Set: Jesus in the stage and theatrical productions as he goes through the Temple to get rid of the marketers and money-changers. Ted Neeley in the 1973 film was so thorough in doing this with all the props that the producers could only film one take.
  • Uncommon Time: "Everything's Alright" (5/4, with verses ending in 3/4) and "The Temple" (7/4).
  • Villain Has a Point: Over time the biblical Judas has become an archetype of a traitor who betrays their closest friends for personal gain. Judas in JCS is however a much more complex character and an example of this. He nails the point in "Heaven On Their Minds": the whole Jesus thing started nicely, but now, it's getting out of hand, as the followers are speaking more and more openly of a violent rebellion against the occupying Romans. Judas sees that Jesus can very easily lose control over people following him, and while Romans can tolerate some religious sect wandering around, any attempt at the revolution will lead to a brutal suppression and nasty reprisal for the entire Judea. Judas has basically a Morton's Fork thing: betray his friend and have his name Ruined Forever or see the bloody slaughter of his fellow countrymen. Basically he chooses The Needs of the Many.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Judas' Death. This is what all other breakdown tropes want to be when they grow up. It is the God of character meltdowns.
    • He has a slightly more minor, but still notable, one in "Damned For All Time". Annas has to get him off the ground for the start of "Blood Money".
  • Villain Song: "This Jesus Must Die," "King Herod's Song" and "Then We Are Decided" from the movie.
    • Virtually every song sung by Judas (with a few exceptions) are Villain Songs, even if he is an Anti-Villain.
  • Voice Types: Jesus, Judas, Simon Zealotes and King Herod are tenors. Mary Magdalene is an alto. Pilate and Peter are baritones. Caiaphas is a bass. Annas is a countertenor, unless you cross-cast, in which case s/he is usually a mezzo-soprano. Other productions, such as the 1996 London cast, simply drop his lines down an octave, making him a baritone.
  • World of Ham: Israel in 33 AD.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jesus and Judas.
    • Arguably, Caiaphas, who thinks that "Jesus is cool" but feels that he has to have him killed to prevent him from stirring up revolution and provoking retaliation from Rome. When Judas is having his BSOD, Caiaphas comforts him, saying that his actions have saved Israel.
  • What Is Evil?: As in the Bible, Pilate's response to Jesus bringing up the concept of truth is, "What is truth?" He goes on to suggest that truth is subjective. (How confident he is in making that suggestion depends on the production.)
  • You Can't Fight Fate: One of the main themes (along with all the Ho Yay). Jesus, Judas, Pilate and even Peter struggle to escape the roles that have been written for them, or at least to pass/pin the blame for their part on someone else, but to no avail. God will have His martyr, His betrayer(s), and His bloody, horrible ending.
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