The rock-opera was not as controversial as it might have been, however the
show has been condemned through the years by a few religious groups. South
Africa went so far as to ban the show for being ‘irreligious’. Sir Tim Rice did not
see Christ as God but simply as the right man at the right time and in the right
place. This was indeed blasphemous to some, as was a somewhat sympathetic
portrayal of Judas. The lack of reference to the resurrection also irked many.
Although Rice and Webber made the bold move to end the show with the
crucifixion, which means directors can decide how to portray Jesus during the
curtain call. If he returns in glorious arrayments rather than crucifixion garb, the
result can be interpreted as a kind of of resurrection.
In interviews, Rice and Webber, both raised Anglican, stated that they were
never trying to make a theological point about Christianity. They simply wished
to craft a compelling show. Initially, Rice and Webber's idea didn't take off,
indeed, the 1970 concept album was banned by BBC radio for being sacrilegious.
In the United States, however, the album suffered a different fate and became the
bestselling record of 1971.
Fifty years later, the show's impact has been monumental. It has been
“resurrected” for countless worldwide productions, arena tours and films. It is
not unusual for people to, when reading the New Testament passion, end up
humming tunes from Jesus Christ Superstar. It could be argued that the show
actually opened up the Christian story to generations that wouldn't have
otherwise had any interest. It could also be argued that it makes the gospels
more palatable, understandable… digestible.
It is the most commercially successful adaptation of the Bible in theatre history.
Jesus Christ Superstar allows us to see Jesus as a human being. He becomes
relatable as he suffers the trials of humanity. The audience can still view the
perfection of Jesus… but can easily sympathise with his ability to feel all of the
hurt, pain and betrayal of his journey. And in 1999 the Catholic Church actually
endorsed the musical.