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YMMV / Jesus Christ Superstar

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  • Adaptation Displacement: The 1973 movie still tends to be the best-known version, leading to a bit of internal Fandom Rivalry, especially with fans of the original 1970 concept album.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: You are supposed to sympathize with Judas.
    • How much you end up sympathising with him is, of course, up to the interpretation of the audience. Either he was a pawn in God's/Jesus' plan, a pawn in the Pharisees' plans, or misguided but ultimately chose his fate. (Or a mix)
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    • Word of God from Tim Rice says that his aim as far as presenting Judas' character was more to do with showing what he might have done in the same situation rather than making him interesting.
    • Pontius Pilate was also given some different perspective. In the musical he does not want to execute Jesus, thinking he is just another nut case who doesn't deserve death, and is utterly baffled why the mob wants him killed. He only goes through with the execution because he was given no other choice.
      • Though a similar impression is given in the Bible. That or not wanting to be bossed around. Many, many adaptations have been made over the centuries, in which Judas, Pilate, and/or the Jews have been blamed to a greater or lesser, sometimes very extreme degree.
      • In "The 39 Lashes", Pilate is often depicted as turning more and more discomfited and agitated as he counts the lashes out loud. In the original album, he counts them out coldly.
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    • In the 2000 film, even Jesus gets this; he comes off more than a little selfish in response to Judas in his early scenes, when Judas is protesting Mary's spending money on expensive foot ointments instead of the poor:
      Jesus: There will be poor always, pathetically struggling; look at the good things you've got!
      ...You'll be lost, and you'll be so sorry, when I'm gone!
      • The 1973 version has him be more sad and solemn about it.
      • The Gospel of John, from where this scene is taken, says that Judas didn't actually care about the poor but only wanted to steal the money, as he was their treasurer. In the musical there's no indication he is anything but sincere.
    • Caiaphas comes across a bit this way, particularly if you know the history of the area. His interest is in preserving the status quo, not because the status quo is so good, but because the Romans will brutally put down any rebellions - like they eventually did a generation later when Judea rose in arms. Caiaphas is willing to sacrifice Jesus' life because he believes that doing so will save many, many other lives. This is fairly ruthless, but it's not evil or sadistic (as Caiaphas is often portrayed elsewhere and Annas still is here).
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    • Mary Magdalene (whose characterization as a former prostitute is Alternative Character Interpretation all by itself) gets scenes that show her to be spiritual and in tune with Jesus' message. However, seen through Judas' eyes, she comes off as a Yes-Man constantly telling Jesus that "everything's alright" rather than confronting him about the building problems, as Judas tries to do.
    • On a different note, whether or not Christ is actually divine is ambiguous. There is evidence both for (his prophecy to Peter and Judas) and against (Jesus running from the lepers instead of healing them, and his prayers in Gethsemane) in the music, and it is typically left to the individual production to sort it out, usually in Judas' "Jesus Christ Superstar" number and after Jesus' death, where some productions will throw in a hint that he has resurrected.
  • Awesome Music: The soundtrack topped the charts before the play came out.
    • "Heaven On Their Minds"
    • "Superstar"
    • "This Jesus Must Die"
    • "Gethsemane"
    • "The Last Supper"
    • "Damned For All Time"
    • "Simon Zealotes"
    • "I Don't Know How to Love Him"
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: King Herod's Song (or at least that's how his number usually comes across).
    • And, in the original movie, that bizarre scene with Judas being chased through the desert by helicopters and tanks.
  • Broken Base: Either you love the original movie, or you love the 2000 movie. There is no middle ground. Both sides say the other is a vile mockery. Or you think both are good in their own regards.
    • Fans of Ian Gillan vs. fans of Ted Neeley. This is Serious Business.
    • As well as Murray Head vs. Carl Anderson.
  • Dueling Movies: Godspell whose play and movie came out the same years.
    • Johnny Cash's Gospel Road'' would qualify too, as that was another 1973 musical release about Jesus with Mary Magdalene being a central character. Said release was also filmed in Israel.
  • Evil Is Cool:
    • Alice Cooper as King Herod in the 1996 and 2018 versions, on the basis of— oh, who are we kidding, he's Alice Cooper as Herod!
    • High Priest Caiaphas in pretty much every version due to his charisma and intelligence, not to mention his deep voice and interesting songs.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Peter for the 1973 film. Strangely his actor (Paul Thomas/Phil Toubus) was the only surviving film actor not to return for the reunion, and has never really spoken about the show - possibly due to becoming a famous porn director.
    • For the 2012 Live Arena Tour Alexander Hanson as Pontius Pilate.
    • Alice Cooper as King Herod in the 1996 recording and the 2018 live special.
  • Even Better Sequel: In the sense that it's a followup on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Although Dreamcoat is well-loved for being Webber's Breakthrough Hit, Superstar is counted among his masterpieces such as The Phantom of the Opera and CATS.
  • First Installment Wins: Fans of the original LP concept album point out that it set the standard for all subsequent versions.
    • Literally, in the case of the vocal score, which in many places merely transcribes what was performed on the original album.
  • Ham and Cheese: Pilate tends to be played with either this or Tranquil Fury. Fred Johanson (2000) is an example of the former; Alex Hanson (2012), of the latter. Barry Dennen (1973) does both at different times, but errs toward ham, albeit with not as much over-the-top attack-dog viciousness as Johanson.
    • Worth noting is that Pilate's apparent one constant character trait is being out of his depth, and a lot of his characterisation comes from this. Barry Dennen's Pilate is relatively calm when we meet him in Act I, but becomes angrier and more vicious throughout the show as a result of the stress and strain of trying to understand and to dispense justice while knowing the crowd will lynch him if he doesn't give them what they want.
    • Meanwhile, Fred Johanson's Pilate is near tears from fear in "Pilate's Dream", but resolutely macho and hypermasculine when next we see him - the tears are his real self, while the borderline psychotic rage which characterises the rest of his performance is a facade of machismo put on to please the crowd and give the impression of strong, merciless leadership. Reinforcing this impression is the fact that in the lull just before the final "Remember Caesar" section of "Trial Before Pilate", when Jesus is the only person who can see his face, the facade falls and the rattled, extremely scared look from before is back.
    • Among the major portrayals, Hanson's Pilate is different in that he is negotiating from a position of strength; Dennen's Pilate risks being physically torn apart by the mob, while Johanson's Pilate risks an unsustainable loss of face. Hanson's Pilate seems to be better-protected, and as a result he remains relatively calm even up to the start of "Trial Before Pilate", when he begins to sense that things are not as they should be and that the problem will not blow over on its own. His eventual rage is not born of fear; it comes from bemusement, turning to frustration and helplessness.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The dig against John Lennon ("How do we deal with a man [Jesus] who is greater / Than John was when John did his baptism thing?") isn't as funny since he died nine years later.
    • ...Only if you choose to make that line about John Lennon and not take it at face value, in which case it would be about John the Baptist. Still could be Harsher in Hindsight considering what happened to him, but...
    • It's subtle but in the 2000 film, during Hosanna and Simon Zealotes some of the disciples are wearing vaguely militaristic gear along with/instead of their "normal" costumes. This is all fine and good except for one whose body armour looks eerily similar to the stereotypical suicide-bomber vest that the world would become very familiar with in a matter of years...
  • Ho Yay: Judas and Jesus. Oh God, the Judas and Jesus... Depending on the Production.
    • A few of the live productions play up the gentility and respect in their relationship - they're like brothers.
    • The 2000 version seemed to do this as blatantly as possible (some would say it was turned Up to Eleven). All the apostles wore tight ripped shirts, leather pants, and very frequently caressed and hugged each other. While the women all wore pretty modest ankle length dresses and their hair held in a ratty bun.
      • To compare, in the 1973 version Judas' kiss of betrayal is Judas sneaking up from behind, giving Jesus a very quick light peck on the cheek. In the 2000 version, the two are looking each other directly in the eyes while crying. Then Judas gives him a deep, long, smooch and Jesus responds by briefly wrapping his arms around him before Judas pushes him off.
      • In the 2000 version of "Heaven on Their Minds", Judas pleads to Jesus while they are alone together, with lots of Judas getting into Jesus's personal space, and hesitant, delicate touches to Jesus's bare skin. Compare the 1973 version of "Heaven on Their Minds" which has Judas overlooking the group from a distance and talking to himself.
      • There's also the clinging and crying during "The Last Supper".
      • However, the 1973 version has an emotionally charged moment during Everything's Alright, with Jesus gently lifting Judas' chin, the two gripping each other's shoulders, and their arms slowly slipping away from each other, until they clasp hands and have several seconds of intense eye contact.
      • And then there's the bit where the last straw before his betrayal was catching Jesus and Mary Magdalene in a compromising position.
    • It's also arguable that the 2012 arena tour does this to a greater extent than the 1973 film... Probably not the 2000 one though. Some of the looks exchanged between Tim Minchin's Judas and Ben Forster's Jesus (or even just glances in the general direction of the other character) could easily be classed as 'longing'. Add to that Minchin's heartbreaking reprise of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" during "Judas' Death," and the fact that during "The Last Supper" some of the apostles genuinely look as though they're watching a couple have a screaming row..
      • Caiaphas and Annas, oddly enough (son-in-law and father-in-law in the Bible), also get this in the 2012 production. It's relatively restrained, but there are a few looks shared in quiet moments; most notably, in this production, Judas punches Caiaphas in the face in the "Damned For All Time" section of "Judas' Death", and Annas hands Caiaphas a small towelette to wipe off the blood, giving him a positively throbbing look as he does so. The height disparity (6'6'' Caiaphas v. rather diminutive Annas) and the distinct difference in manner (Caiaphas blue, Annas red) add to the impression.
    • The 2014 Swedish Arena Tour dials up the Ho Yay and breaks the knob off. It starts with Judas singing "Heaven on their Minds" to a sleeping Jesus with lots of longing looks and lingering touches. Also, the kiss with which Judas betrays Jesus is a full-on The Big Damn Kiss: no cheek or forehead kissing here! (The kiss is immediately followed by a hug with the two of them clinging to each other, and Judas looks absolutely devestated to be doing what he's doing as he holds Jesus.)
    • In the 2018 live television production, after Judas delivers the kiss of betrayal and starts to walk away, Jesus grabs him and gives him a long hug, which Judas is surprised by but soon reciprocates. They have to be torn apart by the guards arresting Jesus.
    • Oper Bonn has Judas touching Jesus' shoulder before tenderly kissing him on the forehead. Jesus turn and sings his line, so that the men's foreheads touch. Later on, two guards have to pull Jesus away from staring at Judas' hanging corpse.
    • The 2018 version even gives us Pilate/Jesus. Pilate sounds incredibly anguished - beyond fearing eternal damnation - as he's on his knees, practically begging Jesus to give him a reason to keep the Son of God alive.
    • In the 2014 Swedish arena tour, Judas walks in on Jesus and Mary holding each other right after "I Don't Know How to Love Him", and, angered by it, flings them from the swing they're sitting on, helps Jesus up, and grabs his face as if he's trying to pull him in for a kiss. Jesus throws him off and a crushed Judas runs offstage leading into "Damned For All Time", leaving one with the implication that Jesus's rejection is a key factor in Judas's decision to betray him.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Oh Judas, you're so troubled.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Many watched the 2018 live version just for Alice Cooper's performance that many agreed stole the show.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Caiaphas is the intelligent High Priest of Jerusalem. When the popularity of Jesus of Nazareth puts his people at risk, Caiaphas decides to have Jesus killed to protect his people. Caiaphas proceeds to manipulate Judas Iscariot into giving him Jesus's location, exploiting his altruistic motives to make him take money for the deed. He then has Jesus brought to the Roman government, utilizing the crowd's bloodlust to force Roman governor Pontius Pilate into a corner. Caiaphas then exploits the lack of a death penalty among his community to force Pilate to execute Jesus, leaving him to take the blame for Jesus's death, succeeding in his goal and keeping his people safe.
  • Memetic Mutation: A well-known parody. "Jesus Christ... Superstar... Burning 'round the corner on a Yamaha!"
    • Or less awesomely "Looks like a woman and he wears a bra..."
  • Narm: In the original album, during "Pilate and Christ" when a Roman soldier says "Someone Chrois', king of da Jeeewwwsss" in the Cockney accent.
    • The bizarre facial expressions made by Simon during "Simon Zealotes". The portrayal is less "violent, rebel agitator" and more "stoned, dancing hippie." Made even better by Judas' reaction shot, which can only be described as "What is this I don't even..."
      • You can even see Christ cracking up a little when Simon starts singing in his face. Corpsing?
      • It doesn't get better in the 2000 production, given Simon's frosted tips and the flamboyancy of some of his gestures.
    • The 90s Aussie production in spades. Strange Thing Mystifying sounds like a hair metal anthem.
    • The potential for Narm in "Heaven On Their Minds" is very strong, especially the first cry of "JEEEESUUUUS!"
    • The way Peter interjects "No, not me!" after Jesus says Peter will deny him in the 1973 movie.
    • Narm Charm: "King Herod's Song" in the film Crosses the Line Twice past Narm and goes straight into ridiculously awesome.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Herod, especially when he's played by Rik Mayall.
    • In the 2018 NBC version, Alice Cooper as Herod!
    • Simon Zealotes. The 2018 concert cast Swedish rockstar Erik Grönwall, and he nailed it.
  • She Really Can Act: Former Spice Girl Melanie C. surprised a lot of people with her powerful-yet-vulnerable portrayal of Mary Magdalene on the UK Arena Tour.
  • Signature Scene:
    • "Gethsemane". Particularly that one high (G5) note on "WHY should I die", originally a Metal Scream that Ian Gillan improvised.
    • "Superstar", which they released as a chart-topping single (and a music video) for Murray Head even before the concept album was done. Also has a Title Drop.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Caiaphas and Annas are sitting on a powder keg (the people hate the Romans and are looking for any excuse to rebel) and see Jesus as the equivalent of a lit match in the powder keg. In Real Life, less than fifty years after the Crucifixion, the Jews did rebel...and got utterly crushed.
  • Suspiciously Similar "Song": The background cacophony in "The Crucifixion" seems heavily inspired by "Revolution 9", released just a few years prior.
    • “What’s The Buzz?” is very similar to the Starman theme from the Super Mario Bros. series.
  • Vindicated by History: With Christians, since when the musical first came out many were outraged claiming it was blasphemous not helped by how this was around the height of the "rock and roll is Satanic" era. But over the years, this mindset has cooled down and if anything are happy that they have a somewhat mainstream story about the Passion. In fact, the 2018 live version seemed to have Christians in mind considering how it was released on Easter and many religious organizations and media groups bought ad time.
  • What an Idiot!: Judas lived under Roman occupation and should have been well aware of the Roman's brutality toward prisoners. Nevertheless, after he betrays Jesus to the authorities, he's genuinely shocked when the Roman guards torture Jesus.
    Judas: My God, I saw him! He looked three-quarters dead! And he was so bad I had to turn my head. You beat him so hard that he was bent and lame, and I know who everybody's gonna blame.
  • The Woobie:
    • Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Depending on the production, Judas could be as well.
    • Pilate. He really wants to be anywhere else.


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