On composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice arrived at Olympic Studios in London to do something unprecedented: record a cast album for a production that didn’t exist.
Upon its release the following year, Jesus Christ Superstar topped the US Billboard pop charts, ending the year at #1 ahead of Carole King’s Tapestry. It also served as a launching pad for stage productions both on Broadway, and in the West End.
The concept of this politically driven, modern opera was provocative; casting the title character as a common man rather than a miracle worker. But the productions were controversial – condemned by religious groups who saw the narrative, the tone of the music, and even the title to be “irreligious.”
AUGUST 10, 1969
But as the show aged, modern productions lost their edge. They failed to highlight the contemporary attitudes and sensibilities, the slang that pervaded the lyrics, and the ironic illusions to modern life and political events. Robe and sandal productions became the norm and indulgent singers used the operatic score to show off, resulting in a passion play without the passion.
On we staged a concert in New York City at Highline Ballroom with a cast of twelve, and an all-female band.
With Morgan James and Shoshana Bean signed on to sing the roles of Jesus and Judas respectively, we were able to enlist Tony Award nominee Orfeh as Pontius Pilate, Tony Award winner Debbie Gravitte as Caiaphas, and Broadway favorites Ann Harada as King Herod, Bryonha Marie Parham as Annas, Shayna Steele as Simon, and Pearl Sun as Peter. And we rounded out the cast with Glee’s Alex Newell in the role of Mary Magdalene.
JANUARY 16, 2017
The intent was to honor all of the obvious cues from the authors: Christ was a captivating spokesperson for the marginalized, and his followers protested their oppressive government. Time was blended using contemporary images to give context to an archaic era.
When Judas sings, “I can see where we all soon will be…” an image of the compound in Waco burns eerily behind him. When Jesus marches through the streets in “Hosanna,” slides of Black Lives Matter protests amplify the size of the crowd.
Performing the concert five days before the Women’s March on Washington made it even more powerful and relevant.
FEBRUARY 1, 2018
On we arrived at Brooklyn Recording to follow in the footsteps of the authors. We enlisted an all-female orchestra made up of New York’s most sought after musicians who delivered sonically on the show’s vast demands – from 70's rock, to vaudeville, to 20th Century classical.
We assembled a cast of 18 all-star singers, with Morgan James, Shoshana Bean, Orfeh, Debbie Gravitte, and Bryonha Marie Parham reprising their roles. New to the cast were Eden Espinosa as Peter and Marva Hicks as Mother Mary, Grammy Award winner Ledisi in the role of Simon, alt-cabaret provocateur Bridget Everett performed as King Herod, and Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Cynthia Erivo as Mary Magdalene. The apostles, priests, mob, etc. were voiced by Rebecca Covington, Eden Espinosa, Ann Harada, Marva Hicks, Joanne Javien, Tamika Lawrence, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Isabel Santiago, Pearl Sun, and Jasmin Raen Walker.
Now, after years of waiting, the album Jesus Christ Superstar: Highlights from the All-Female Studio Cast Recording has been released. The album is a love letter to its predecessor and includes 15 of the most iconic songs from its classic score.