|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Stage Shows|
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Original Australian Production, 1972-74
Judas (Jon English) in full flight with the chorus, Capitol Theatre, 1972.
Photo courtesy of Mark Ellison.
Capitol Theatre, Sydney (1972-73) followed by a season in Melbourne at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, and a short tour of other cities and towns.
4 May 1972 - February 1974 (700+ performances)
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and lyrics by Timothy Rice
Producer: Harry M. Miller
Director: Jim Sharman
Executive Producer: Frederick J. Gibson
Associate Exec. Producer: Garry Van Egmond
Scenic Design: Brian Thomson
Musical Director: Patrick Flynn
Associate Musical Director and Principal Conductor: Michael Carlos
Costume Design: Rex Cramphorne
Sound: John Morrison
Dance Director: Keith Bain
Trevor White (Jesus)
Jon English (Judas)
Michelle Fawdon (Mary Magdalene) 1972-73
Marcia Hines (Mary Magdalene) 1973-74
Robin Ramsay (Pontius Pilate)
Reg Livermore (Herod) 1972-73
Joe Dicker (Herod) 1973-74
Stevie Wright (Simon Zealotes)
Peter North (Caiaphas)
John Paul Young (Annas)
Brian Withers (Priest 1)
Peter Noble (Priest 2)
Bill Binks (Priest 3)
Wayne Matthews (Peter)
Frank Howson, Bill Paton (Stage Attendants)
Mike Wade (guitar, band leader)
Ken Firth (bass)
Jamie McKinley (piano, acoustic guitar)
Greg Henson (drums)
Michael Carlos (organ, Moog synthesiser)
Mike Reed (understudy guitar)
About Superstar and its writers
The creators of the Superstar,
lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew
Lloyd Webber, first met in 1965. Rice had dabbled in pop music
as a member of
the groups The Aardvarks (1961-63) and Whang And The Cheviots.
began his career intending to become a solicitor,
but ended up joining EMI
in 1966, working under the supervision of Norrie
Paramor. When Paramor left EMI to form his own company Rice went with
joining the Norrie Paramour Organisation in early 1968 and he worked there
until 1969. It was through Desmond Elliot, whom he approached with an
idea for a book about pop history, that Rice met
Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Andrew Lloyd Webber was a child prodigy from a distinguished musical family. His father William was a respected composer and organist, and at the time Superstar was created William Lloyd Webber was director of the London College of Music. Andrew's younger brother Julian became a renowned classical cellist. Andrew published his first composition at the age of nine, and won scholarships to Westminster School and Magdalen College Oxford, but he dropped out of university to work with Rice; he later studied at the Royal College of Music.
Rice and Lloyd Webber's first collaboration, the musical The Likes Of Us (based on the life of Dr Barnardo) was never produced, but soon afterwards they wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat which premiered at Colet Court in 1968. It was specifically written to be performed by schools and proved to be very popular. It was subsequently recorded as an album, which did not become a success until after Superstar became a hit.
Conceived and written in 1968-69, Superstar was certainly an innovative work, although perhaps not so wholly original as it creators have since portrayed it. Rice and Lloyd Webber were not the first to combine the stage musical form with songs written in the rock genre -- that honour goes to two American musicals which premiered in 1968 -- Your Own Thing, a rock musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night which was soon forgotten, and Hair, which was first staged in October 1967 and started its successful Broadway run in April 1968. Similarly, the concept of a rock musical with no "recitative" or spoken links, one that carried the story entirely in the lyrics of songs, was an approach that had recently been essayed on two pioneering concept albums by British rock bands -- The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow (1968) and The Who's Tommy, written in 1968 and recorded in 1969, which was also the first work to be described as "rock opera".
Rice and Lloyd Webber would have been well aware of both Hair and Tommy, and while they had already written a pop musical on a biblical theme, it's arguable that Pete Townshend's allegorical exploration of the Messianic themes in Tommy exerted a strong influence on Rice and Lloyd Webber, perhaps encouraging them to take the bold step of telling the story more directly by writing a musical that explicitly dealt with the subject of life and death of Jesus.
"We broke all the rules. For example, we came out with cast recordings
before the shows had opened, and we cut out the book. These things,
which proved to be magical ingredients for a hit, were either forced
upon us or we did because we had no choice. We desperately
wanted Superstar to be a stage show
but no-one wanted to produce it 'this will never catch on' so we had to
do it as an album. And because we did it as an album we made it
shorter, because unlike today's CDs, you could only fit a maximum 23
minutes of music on each side of a vinyl LP. So instead of a
long, drawn-out show for the stage, we had to trim it
back drastically. And nothing in life is ever too short. Superstar,
at 86 minutes, was a lot better than it would have been at 186 minutes."
"We also ditched the book. Nor did we worry about scene transitions. No matter that the Apostles had to enter stage-left just as 450 Roman legionnaires exited stage-right. It was like writing a show for radio, which, indeed, we were, because radio was then the only outlet for this project. And for that reason we made it more contemporary sounding. If it had opened as a stage show in Plymouth or Huddersfield or wherever, with an ordinary pit orchestra, it would not have had any of that dynamic rock feeling which made it a landmark musical."
The authors cleverly avoided any engagement with the question of Jesus' divinity by setting the story in the last seven days of his life on Earth. Theologically speaking, they were perfectly justified in doing so -- according to Christian doctrine Jesus was a mortal man until his resurrection. Nevertheless, it was a brave step for the time and there were many religious conservatives who were appalled by the very idea of such a portrayal, especially when combined with the sinful and shocking medium of rock music.
The writers' other bold conceit was to tell the story through the eyes of Judas and effectively make him the lead character, rather than Jesus. Rice also exploited the political overtones of the story, which invited obvious contemporary parallels with modern Messiah figures like Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, as well as drawing the obvious parallel between the Roman invasion of Israel and America's colonial war in Vietnam.
Superstar tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus' life, as told by his favourite disciple. Judas has become disillusioned with Jesus, and is fearful of the road he is taking. At the opening of the play, Judas agonizes over what he sees as the fanaticism and blind loyalty of Jesus' followers, decrying the fact that some are now hailing him as a god, the fulfilment of the ancient Hebrew prophecy of the Messiah, and that his most radical followers are looking to him to lead them in a revolution to overthrow the Roman occupation. To Judas, Jesus is just a man, with human frailties, evidenced by his troubling relationship with reformed prostitute Mary Magdalene.
As the mood of his followers becomes more extreme, the
rift between Jesus and Judas widens. He sees Jesus' rampage
in the temple, lashing out at the moneylenders and merchants, then
begging to be left alone when a crowd of cripples surrounds him wanting
to be healed, which leaves Judas more convinced than ever that
the man from
Nazareth is just that -- a man, and nothing more. Stricken with doubt,
Jesus has lost control of the mob and has become dangerous and must be
stopped before he brings down the wrath of the Romans on them all. He
goes to the high priests of the Temple and gives them the information
they need to catch Jesus alone so that they can take him prisoner
without risking violence by the mob. After leading the soldiers to
Gethsemane, however, and watching the events that unfold, Judas
realizes that he has become the instrument of Jesus' martyrdom. Furious
that the man from Nazareth will be remembered as a "superstar," Judas
Although its conceptual and structural originality may be open to question, Superstar definitely broke new ground both in the record industry and the theatre, by reversing the usual relationship between stage show and soundtrack album. Soundtrack albums had been a popular marketing tool for musicals since the late 1940s but such albums were typically recorded after a show had become successful. Superstar appeared as an LP long before it was produced on stage and in fact it was the success of the record which led directly to the first stage production -- the first and probably the only time a major stage musical has been successfully launched in this manner.
Due to the controversial nature of the show, Rice and Lloyd Webber were unable to get backing for a stage production, so they drew on their extensive connections in the music industry to record the project as a rock album. MCA England were interested so they agreed to record one of the songs and release it to test public reaction. Rice and Lloyd Webber then wrote the first song, Jesus Christ Superstar, which eventually became the finale. It was recorded in September 1969 and released as a single. Although it drew a certain amount of criticism it was generally accepted and most importantly, it charted. MCA gave them the go-ahead to continue, so they locked themselves away in a Herefordshire hotel, and composed their rock opera in one working week. The album was completed in July 1970; the lead performers included Ian Gillan of Deep Purple as Jesus, Murray Head (who later recorded the international hit single One Night In Bangkok from Chess) and singer-guitarist John Gustafson, who played bass on many of Roxy Music's 1970s albums. The Superstar album was officially released in the U.S. by Decca on 27 October 1970 and it too was an immediate hit. This success enabled Rice, Lloyd-Webber and their backers to move ahead with presenting Superstar on stage -- although it's significant that they first went to America to do so.
Superstar had its world stage premiere at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York on 12 October 1971. In another bold stroke, the producers cast African-American stage star Ben Vereen as Judas, with Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Yvonne Elliman as Mary (she starred in the movie version and later worked with Eric Clapton), Barry Dennen as Pilate, and Paul Ainsley as Herod. Despite opposition from some conservative Christian groups, the original production (directed by Tom O'Horgan and produced by Robert Stigwood) became a huge box office hit and ran for 720 performances.
It was followed by a string of successful international stagings including the Australian and UK seasons; each had its own cast and design, and both premiered in 1972. The Sydney production opened in May 1972 at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, and the London production on 9 August 1972 at The Palace Theatre, where it ran for 3358 performances. The Sydney and London productions were directed and designed by Jim Sharman and Brian Thompson. Sharman was also invited to direct the subsequent Tokyo production. The Sydney version was produced by Harry M. Miller, and the London version by Robert Stigwood. There was also a successful film version directed by Norman Jewison and featuring members of the American productions, including Yvonne Elliman as Mary, Ted Neely as Jesus and black American singer-actor-dancer Ben Vereen as Judas.
Unlike the creators of Hair, Rice and Lloyd Webber were able to follow up the huge success of Superstar with more hit musicals, and they have since become household names. However it is not widely known that their next project after Superstar was a flop. Through 1974-75 the pair worked simultaneously on two new musicals, one called Jeeves, based on the PG Wodehouse characters; Rice eventually backed out, feeling that he could not do justice to the famous Wodehouse characters, and he was replaced by noted playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Despite this, it proved to be one of Lloyd Webber's rare failures, running only five weeks. He reunited with Rice and together they completed the second project, Evita, in late 1975.
Essentially a retread of the Superstar concept, Evita was based on the life story of the controversial popular figure Maria Eva "Evita" Duarte Peron, the wife of General Juan Domingo Peron, the military dictator of Argentina from the 1940s to the 1970s. Some found the musical's canonisation of Eva Peron distasteful, especially given her husband's brutal reputation and his unashamedly fascist political affiliations. But her story is undoubtedly compelling -- equally loved and despised, she rose from provincial obscurity to become a famous actress and finally First Lady, only to be struck down by cancer at the age of 33. Like the figure of Judas, Evita was obviously attractive to Rice, who originated the project, since she perfectly embodied the paradoxical aspects of fame and power.
Evita was even more successful than
Superstar, and Julie Covington's recording of the song "Don't
Cry For Me, Argentina" was an international hit. The pair are
now acknowledged as the most successful creative team in theatre
history, although their partnership dissolved acrimoniously soon after Evita
premiered. Temperamentally they were very different -- Lloyd Webber's
upper-class background made him distant and aloof and
by the time of Evita
he was becoming known as a workaholic who sweated over his music and
obsessed over his productions. The outgoing Rice, from an
average middle-class background, was an avuncular and well-liked figure
who could "produce lyrics on a napkin over lunch".
Lloyd Webber's next project, Cats, was a musical adaptation of the poems from the children's book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by the world-renowned British poet T.S. Eliot. It was the first of several hugely successful collaborations between Lloyd-Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh, but it also marked the end of the Rice-Lloyd Webber partnership. Towards the end of project, Lloyd Webber approached Rice to provide words for the last-minute composition Memory (which proved to be the showstopper). Rice worked through the night on the lyrics, but his contribution was never used and this slight brought his partnership with Lloyd Webber to an abrupt end.
Despite its improbable (some might say laughable)
subject matter, Cats struck an unlikely chord with
theatre-goers and became a massive hit, smashing the box-office records
set a few years earlier by A Chorus Line, and it
has since become both the longest-running and highest-grossing
musical in theatrical history. It was followed by one of Lloyd Webber's
less successful works, Song & Dance, with
lyrics by Don Black, which premiered in 1982 in London and ran for a
respectable 781 performances, closing in 1984.
Lloyd-Webber's next project proved to be another colossal hit. It was inspired by his lifelong interest in trains and railways -- as was the name of his company, The Really Useful Group, which derived from his love of the "Thomas The Tank Engine" stories. The new work was basically a variant on the anthropomorphic conceit of Cats. Originally conceived in 1973 as an animated television series, Starlight Express was loosely based on the story "The Little Engine That Could", centreing on a battered steam engine named Rusty who is encouraged to race a flashy diesel locomotive. This evolved into a lavish musical spectacle in which the engines were portrayed by actor-dancers on roller-skates (which proved very demanding for the performers).
The lavish set featured a 5.5 ton steel suspension bridge and a gigantic set constructed of 6 miles of timber, 2.5 acres of plywood and 60 tons of steel. It took 1200 lanterns & 6000 pea lights on the back wall to create the star effect. Th London production cost over £2.25 million when originally staged in 1984, making it the most expensive musical ever produced in the UK up to that point, but the investment paid off handsomely and Starlight Express now ranks second only to Cats as the longest-running musical in British theatre history.
The same year, Lloyd Webber divorced his first wife Sarah Hugill, whom he had married in 1971, and married soprano Sarah Brightman. His next work was a Requiem written for his late father, in which Brightman sang the female soprano part. He wrote his next musical for his new wife. Phantom of the Opera, adapted from the Victor Hugo novel, is now arguably Lloyd Webber's most famous and successful work. It premiered in 1986 and became an unprecedented international hit, with major productions running for years in cities around the world. It is now acknowledged as the most successful musical of all time, has been seen by 60 million people worldwide and has grossed more than £2 billion. It made British film and TV actor Michael Crawford (previously best known as the bumbling Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em) into a major theatrical and recording star; in Australia the role was premiered by Anthony Warlow, succeeded by (the late) Rob Guest, who made the role his own and achieved a world record for the most performances in the role.
In 1986 Rice and Lloyd Webber reunited briefly to collaborate on a one-off project, Cricket, a 25-minute musical comedy commissioned by Prince Edward (who was then working for the Really Useful Group) and which was performed as part of a pageant for the Queen's 60th birthday. Lloyd Webber's next musical venture opened in 1989. Taking the opposite tack to its predecessor, Aspects Of Love featured a small cast in an intimate setting and while the songs were critically praised, this musical was far less successful than its predecessors.
In 1990 Lloyd Webber and Brightman divorced and in early 1991 he married his third wife Madeleine Gurdon. His next project was a musical adaptation of the classic Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard, which premiered in 1993, but several of the productions were beset by problems and closed after a relatively short runs. In 1997, Lloyd Webber was knighted. The same year his next musical, Whistle Down the Wind premiered out, but it soon closed due to extensive production problems. However this was offset by the long awaited movie adaptation of Evita starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas, which was a box-office success.
Through the '80s and '90s Webber continued his unstoppable progress to ever greater heights. Cats and Phantom became international successes on an unprecedented scale, with Cats now holding the record as the longest-running musical in theatre history, making The Really Useful Group one of the most profitable companies in Britain. In recent years Lloyd Webber purchased Canaletto's The Old Horse Guard for over £10 million and bought both the Palace and New London theatres.
Webber's image suffered some dents, however. He has gained a reputation as having a domineering personality and exerts an obsessive, Kubrick-esque control over performances of his works (even in schools) through his company and it is impossible to stage any Webber musical without every aspect being thoroughly vetted by RUG. More seriously, there were persistent questions about the originality of Lloyd Webber's work and although the matter was given suprisingly little publicity it is understood that RUG and Lloyd Webber were obliged to come to a financial settlement with the estate of the composer Giaccomo Puccini, which took action against Lloyd Webber for allegedly plagiarising Puccini's music for Phantom.
Despite these setbacks, Lloyd Webber -- now a life peer with a seat in the House of Lords -- is one of Britain's richest citizens and arguably the most successful and famous composer of his generation. In 2001 Lloyd Webber premiered his musical collaboration with comedian Ben Elton, The Beautiful Game, which follows the exploits of a group of aspiring young Belfast soccer players. His most recent project is as producer for the musical with the Bollywood flavour -- Bombay Dreams (2002) -- with music by A.R. Rahman, book by Meera Sayel and lyrics by his Song and Dance collaborator Don Black.
Tim Rice (who was knighted in 1994) has been almost as successful as Lloyd Webber in artistic terms, although it's doubtful that he has enjoyed anything like the financial rewards in which his erstwhile partner now luxuriates. In 1981 Rice wrote lyrics for the rock concept album 1984 (based on the Orwell novel) with music by Rick Wakeman. In 1983 he co-wrote the musical Blondel (set in the Crusades) with composer Stephen Oliver. In 1984 he collaborated with Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA on the hit musical Chess, which duplicated Superstar by being recorded as a concept album before it was staged.
In 1992 he wrote lyrics for an English adaptation of a French musical, set in the contemporary recording industry, which was retitled Tycoon. In 1995 he collaborated with Australian musician and composer John Farrar (ex The Strangers) on the musical Heathcliff, Sir Cliff Richard's long-cherished musical adaptation of Wuthering Heights. In 1997 he returned to biblical themes with a musical based on the life of King David, co-written with composer Alan Mencken.
Much of Rice's recent and most successful work has been for Disney, including several of their hit animated film musicals. In 1992 he wrote additional lyrics for Aladdin and in 1994 he contributed additional lyrics to the stage adaptation of Beauty & The Beast, and later that year scored a huge hit when he wrote the lyrics for Elton John's music in the hugely successful animated feature The Lion King. Their song "Can You Feel The Love" went on to win an Academy Award and the flim later became a hit stage musical. The two subsequently collaborated on an animated adaptation of Aida (1998). In 2000 they collaborated on a third animated film, Dreamworks' The Road To El Dorado. A lifelong fan and a noted cricket writer, Rice is also a member of the MCC and was club President in 2002-2003.
His autobiography, covering his life and career up to the opening of Evita in London, was published in England in 1999. He has won many awards including twelve Ivor Novello awards, four Tony awards, and three Oscars. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999. During the Broadway run of the Jesus Christ Superstar revival in 2000, he had a total of four shows playing simultaneously on the Great White Way.
The Australian Production
Many elements came together to make the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar special. It drew on experience and expertise that had been developed in Sydney's blossoming theatre scene in the late 1960s, and which first came to wider public attention with the original Sydney production of Hair. Many cast, band and production staff who worked on Hair went on to work on Superstar, including producer Harry M. Miller, director Jim Sharman, designer Brian Thompson, orchestra leader (and former Tully keyboard player) Michael Carlos, bassist ken Firth (also ex-Tully), and performers Reg Livermore and Marcia Hines. This tradition continued through to the hit musical The Rocky Horror Show and Livermore's own solo shows.
The Superstar production was in many respects a logical development from Hair. Both productions were notable for casting unknowns in major roles and both were hugely successful in their own right and also acted as springboards that launched the careers of many of their lead players. The novel demands posed by music written in the rock idiom meant that many cast members of both Hair and Superstar were drawn from the local pop/rock music scene -- for Superstar this included Stevie Wright, former lead singer of '60s sensations The Easybeats was cast as Simon Zealotes, Jon English (lead singer of the Sebastian Hardie Blues Band) won the role of Judas, and John Paul Young (ex Elm Tree) scored the role of Annas, one of the high priests.
Also featured was noted stage and TV actor Robin Ramsay, who had achieved considerable fame in the late Sixties in the ABC's drama serial Bellbird, playing the role of the nasty stock-and-station agent Charlie Cousins. When Ramsay's character was written out, Cousin's fatal plunge from the top of a grain silo became one of the most-watched and best-remembered moments in Australian TV history.
In the demanding central role of Judas, the producers cast a British-born singer, Jon English, former lead singer with Sydney's Sebastian Hardie Blues Band. Opposite him was Trevor White, another British-born singer, who had come to Australia in the mid-1960s as the vocalist with the UK band Sounds Unlimited. The role of Mary Magdelene was originally played by actress Michelle Fawdon, who was well established on the Melbourne theatre scene and had featured in numerous TV roles including many Crawford Productions police shows such as Homicide.
Director Jim Sharman had a distinguished showbiz pedigree. His father, Jimmy Sharman Jr, was a famous showman whose tent shows toured the country for decades. Jim Sharman rose to prominence with a series of innovative productions for the Old Tote Theatre Company in the late 1960s, which led to him being selected as the director and designer of Hair in 1969. When the Hair production moved to Melbourne in 1971 it was completely redesigned by another rising young star of Sydney theatre, Brian Thompson, a former architecture student who had collaborated with Sharman on numerous Old Tote productions. His stunning design for the Sydney production of Superstar won him wide acclaim.
One of the most notable aspects of the Sydney production was the recruitment of American-born singer Marcia Hines, who replaced Michelle Fawdon in the role of Mary Magdalene in 1973. Marcia was the first African-American woman anywhere in the world to play the part, although it had an even more daring precedent -- African-American actor Ben Vereen played Judas in the original New York production. Marcia had already made a considerable impression in Hair, but her thrilling performance in Superstar made it obvious that she was a star on the rise and within two years she had become Queen of Pop and Australia's most successful female singer.
Another important member of the cast was Reg Livermore. His long background in Sydney theatre began in childhood and he featured regularly on the Sydney stage and on television, appearing in numerous comedy and drama productions and children's shows. He came to wider attention in 1971 when he succeeded Keith Glass in the central role of Berger in Hair. This was followed by his famous stint as Herod in Superstar. Although only a minor role in the original show, Reg transformed what was originally written as a short brief comic interlude into a seven-minute song-and-dance showstopper.
The subject matter of the show attracted the ire of some conservative religious groups and there were several incident during the production, as Jon English recalled in an interview with the Peter Thomson for the ABC's Talking Heads:
JON: "Well, because it was quite a controversial show, all the loonies came out in the woodwork, and once at the end of Act 1 it was, where I systematically betrayed Jesus, some nut case from the balcony ... threw $6 worth of 20 cent pieces at me, and gave me five stitches over the eye ...
What happened to Trevor White?"
JON: " Some idiot through a Molotov Cocktail at the stage, but the wick came out, fortunately."
Notes on the production design
Brian Thompson’s striking minimalist design for the 1972 stage production set new standards for Australian musical theatre. Reducing the staging to the point of geometric abstraction, Thompson's innovative design used no pictorial scenery, sets or backdrops and there were no conventional props or furniture. The stage backdrops were equally reductive, consisting simply of long ropes hung in parallel against black drapes, forming a simple, cheap and effective striped background, and through which lighting could also be projected.
Thompson's design featured three main major elements. The first consisted of several long, transparent vinyl plastic tubes which could be raised or lowered from above the stage; these were used in the "Creation" sequence during the overture and in Judas' death scene. The second element consisted of several long elevated metal walkways; these were of various lengths and transected the space above the stage at various angles and heights, functioning mainly as raised platforms for the cast, although the main left-to-right walkway was also used to suspend the 'Caesar' curtain which formed the backdrop to the trial scene.
The eye-catching third element and the centrepiece of the production design was the articulated, hydraulically-operated Dodecahradon, a masterpiece of design and engineering that exploited the latest technology. The large, hydraulically articulated dodecahedron. Nothing of this size, complexity and novelty had been seen on the Australian musical stage before, although it arguably had its antecedent in a prop Brian designed for the 1967 Sydney University Architecture Ball starring The Masters Apprentices -- a giant die in which the band were wheeled out into the hall, hidden inside, which then exploded open, becoming the stage on which the band performed.
The dodecahedron shape was a striking sculptural form and rich in symbolism, but its realisation as a stage device was also a brilliant piece of multi-functional stage design which could be used in many ways throughout the show. The Dodecahedron was mounted on a rotating base about 1.5 metres high. The top half of the dodecahedron was fabricated as a single piece, forming a lid which could be raised or lowered into place by cable. When lowered onto the bottom half of the structure, it made a completely enclosed solid (see bleow), but for most of the show, the "lid" was raised up out of sight.
The bottom half of the device was a masterpiece of ingenuity. The entire unit was mounted on a turntable and could be rotated through 360 degrees. All five “leaves” were separately articulated with hydraulic armatures, and each could be individually raised and lowered or held at any elevation -- it could open up like a flower or close to become a basin, each leaf could be lowered to become a ramp or raised to become a level platform. The central 'floor' panel also had a concealed hydraulic lift in its centre, which dropped through the stage floor, allowing cast members to enter and leave the dodecahedron without being seen when the leaves were raised. The lowest gantry, which transected the rear right-hand corner of the stage, was positioned so that when a panel of the dodecahedron was lowered to the same level, the cast could step easily from the walkway onto the dodecahedron and back. The inside was covered in a neutrally-coloured fabric which provided a non-skid surface for the performers and the outside was painted silver to reflect lights and projections.
The choice of a dodecahedron was no doubt inspired by Brian’s architectural studies, and the shape was brilliantly suited to the subject matter, being rich in religious and mystical symbolism. The dodecahedron is symmetrical solid composed of twelve pentagonal faces and is one of the five Platonic solids. These solids, also called the regular solids or regular polyhedra, are convex polyhedra with equivalent faces composed of congruent, convex regular polygons with equal sides and equal angles. There are five Platonic solids -- the cube, the dodecahedron, the icosahedron, the octahedron, and tetrahedron, as proved by Euclid in the last proposition of The Elements. The Platonic solids are also sometimes called "cosmic figures".
The Platonic solids were known to the ancient Greeks, and were described by Plato in his Timaeus ca. 350 BC. He also equated them with the Greek elements -- the tetrahedron with fire, the cube with earth, the icosahedron with water, the octahedron with air and the dodecahedron with the æther, assigning it the role of "the fifth construction, which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven". In 1596 Johannes Kepler published a tract called The Cosmic Mystery in which he envisioned the universe as consisting of nested Platonic Solids whose inscribed spheres determine the orbits of the planets, all enclosed in a sphere representing the outer heaven. The dodecahedron is representative of the universe, and therefore also of God, and the number of faces have been variously said to symbolise the twelve disciples of Jesus, the twelve months of the year and the twelve houses of the zodiac.
Each of the twelve faces of the dodecahedron is a pentagon, another shape of great and ancient symbolic importance -- it contains the golden ratio, which enhances the dodecahedron’s associations with the cosmos, and also outlines the pentagram (or pentacle), which symbolizes man and the human form, and which was also part of the official seal of the city of Jerusalem from about 300-150 BCE. In medieval Jewish mysticism and later magical traditions the Pentagram is called the Seal of Solomon or Solomon's Shield.
Both the pentagon and the pentagram also have a direct and ancient association with the planet Venus, and thus with the various female divinities of the ancient Near East with whom the planet Venus (as either the morning or evening star) was linked, from the Sumerian goddess Inanna through the Akkadian Ishtar (Astarte), the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Athena and Aphrodite and the Roman Venus. Each of these various goddesses has been shown to be the direct mythological descendant of its predecessor, and Isis and Aprhodite/Venus in particular were widely worshipped throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East until well into the early Christian era, when all these cults were subsumed by the Christian church with the introduction of the worship of the Christian mother goddess, the Virgin Mary.
It is interesting to note that, because of this symbolic importance, the dodecahedron was one of several shapes considered by director Stanley Kubrick when designing the alien artefact for his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The other shape he considered was an octahedron, and several such objects (early versions of the monolith) appear during the “Stargate” sequence near the end of the film. Ultimately though, Kubrick rejected both designs and settled on the now-famous rectangular monolith.
The other memorable feature of the production was Herod's car, a converted golf buggy fitted with a custom-made gold fibreglass skull on the front, with headlights in the eye sockets.
The emblem used to represent Imperial Rome (above, left) was emblazoned on Pilate's robe and also appears on the black backdrop which was rolled in during the trial scene. The logo combines an image of the Emperor Tiberius (obviously modelled on Roman coins of the period, like the one above right) with the letter "C" denoting Caesar, although the inclusion of the vertical lines also makes an obvious allusion to the "cent" symbol, implying the link between money and imperial power.
The costumes, designed by the late Rex Cramphorne, perfectly complemented Thompson's reductive design perfectly. Most of the stage used dark or neutrally coloured materials, and this was carried on in the subdued tones used for many of the costumes, which were in pastels -- blue, brown, cream, dark red and mauve. Jesus was dressed in a simple but striking bright red long-sleeved shift with a black stripe around the collar which extended down the centre of the front of the costume.
Judas, appropriately, was dressed for most of the show in a black sleeveless robe with white trim, but for the final scene in which he rises from Hell, English donned a black body stocking emblazoned with red arrows running up each arm and the centre of the costume, so that with both arms raised it creates a 'pitchfork' effect. His costume created a striking contrast to the costumes worn by the chorus during the finale -- white hooded robes, embellished with a broad red strip around the lower half.
The Priests wore long robes, and large conical white head-dresses which accentuated their height. In the original production, Herod wore a black-and-gold Roman style tunic, with his chorines similarly dressed in gold satin mini-skirt tunics which satirically recalled the short battle tunics of Roman soldiers. When Reg Livermore took over he wore a gold satin three-piece suit.
The most spectacular costume was of course the spectacular 'winged' robe worn by Pilate in the climactic trial scene. In royal blue, with white and black screen-printed designs, it featured a large two-winged train, printed with black rays ending in white hands; the wing segments were raised up on poles by attendants during the scene. The robe also had large 'bat-wing' sleeves, with dark blue (or black) rays. As the photo below shows, with arms outstretched and train extended, the robe was very striking indeed.
Also memorable were the sinister costumes for the Roman guards; they were dressed head-to-toe in black leather, with leather hoplite-style helmets surmounting white skull masks that concealed their faces. They carried long 'spears' of metallic silver.
Sound and Music
Superstar boasted many technical breakthoughs in theatrical production. The sound system was a landmark development and we hope to be able to provide a fuller account of the sound design for this production in the near future. It's worth noting that high-fidelity, high-powered concert sound systems were still a novelty in 1972 and certainly nothing like the Superstar system had been heard in Australian theatres before.
It was LOUD -- rock-concert loud -- which was revolutionary in itself for Australian theatre, and it certainly must have shocked some patrons. The sound system was designed and built by audio legend John Morrison, and it was years ahead of its time. We know of several sound engineers who were so excited by what they saw and heard Superstar that it led them directly into their future careers. John's credit as sound designer is believed to be the first time that this area of endeavour was publicly recognised in a major Australian theatrical production.
Sound was a key consideration in staging the show -- the rock-band instrumentation and the volume of the music meant that the lead performers had to use microphones, but Superstar was staged some years before the advent of radio mics, so the principal cast members had to use hand-held mics with long cords -- no small challenge when dozens of performers were moving about the stage. Sharman, Morrison and Thompson devised some clever solutions to meet these challenges. In the trial scene, for instance, Pilate could not use a hand-microphone because he has to wash his hands at the climactic moment, so the team hit on the ingenious idea of building a microphone into the top of a guard's staff, with the cord running down the inside of the tube and trailing discreetly offstage offstage behind the players; this could simply be held up unobtrusively near Herod by one of the guards, ensuring that Ramsay's voice would be picked up. Other mics were strategically placed around the stage so that principals and the chorus could be heard through the PA in situations where hand-held mics were not practical.
Superstar's backing band was also notable and included two former members of highly-regarded progressive rock group Tully -- keyboard player Michael Carlos and bassist Ken Firth. It is believed that Superstar was the first Australian stage production to make use of a synthesiser for its musical backing. Most of the Superstar Band went to The Rocky Horror Show in 1974, eventually forming the core of the Baxter Funt Orchestra, which backed Reg Livermore on his acclaimed one-man shows and backing singer Jeannie Lewis ion concert and on her classic album Free Fall Through Featherless Flight.
Another important innovation came from necessity. The "orchestra pit" at Sydney's Capitol Theatre was a tiny area tucked in under the front of the stage. It was roofed over to provide extra floor space on-stage, which meant that it had no view of the action. To enable the musicians to keep track of what was happening above them, Miller installed the first closed-circuit video monitoring system ever used in an Australian theatre.
All images curtesy of Mark Ellison
NOTES ON THE CAST AND CREW
Trevor was born in Essex, England. He sang and played piano with the group Sounds Incorporated, and moved to Australia when the group broke up. He became a major star with his electrifying performances as Jesus in the Sydney production of Superstar and at the end of the original run of Superstar in 1974 he returned to the UK. White toured with The Kinks, then returned to Australia to work as a songwriter and singer. Trevor has worked extensively as a backing vocalist and session singer in the studio and on TV with credits including The Midday Show and Australian Idol.
According to IMDb, it was Trevor who supplied the voice of Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While visiting London in 1974 Trevor heard that Jim Sharman was auditioning singers to record Rocky's vocals for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because Peter Hinwood (Rocky) did not sing on the album or film, and had to mime to pre-recorded vocals during filming. Trevor successfully auditioned for music director Richard Hartley and recorded Rocky's songs and vocal noises at EMI-Elstree Studios for the film, although the part was re-recorded by an unnamed session singer for the subsequent soundtrack album.
British-born singer Jon English was not well-known prior to his casting as Judas in Superstarbut he was already an accomplished singer, and paid his dues as lead vocalist with Sydney's Sebastian Hardie Blues Band (precursor to the renowned progressive group Sebastian Hardie). He originally auditioned for the Superstar chorus but the producers were so impressed that he was called back to audtion for the role of Judas. His electrifying performances won rave reviews, made him a star and launched his career. In the years following Superstar he established a successful career as a recording artist and was one of the top male vocalists of the period, scoring major hits with songs like "Hollywood Seven' and "Turn The Page" and "Six Ribbons" (with Mario Millo).
Superstar also enabled Jon to move into acting, beginning with a small role in Homicide, followed by his co-starring role in the hugely successful miniseries Against The Wind and a starring role as a washed-up rock star in Nine's comedy series All Together Now. He has also appeared in Pirates (the Broadway version of The Pirates of Penzance) and among his many other achievments, Jon created and wrote the rock opera Paris (based on the Iliad).
|Marcia Hines (Mary Magdalene)
Boston-born Marcia came to Australia in 1970 to join the cast of Hair, which led to her casting as Mary Magdalene in Superstar, the role that took her to national prominence in Australia. After Superstar she had a stint as featued vocalilst with the Daly-Wilson Big Band before launching her very successful solo career. becoming a Queen of Pop and was the most successful and popular female singer in Australia througout the 1970s.
|Robin Ramsay (Pilate)
Robin Ramsay was already a well-established stage and TV actor by the time he appeared in Superstar, and he had become a household name thanks to his memorable role as the conniving stock & station agent Charlie Cousens in the ABC's Bellbird. Robin's character was famously written out of the show by having Cousens take a fatal plunge from a wheat silo -- an episode that became one of the highest rating shows in the ABC's history.
In film, Robin played The Good Fairy in Chris Lofven's Oz (1976), appeared in Philippe Mora's Mad Dog Morgan, and has appeared in many TV serials and miniseries including Ryan, Shannon's Mob, Tandarra, Chopper Squad, Return To Eden, The Flying Doctors, Barlow and Chambers: A Long Way From Home, Embassy, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh and Mercury.
Original Australian Cast Recording (MCA, 1972)
Recording year: 1972
Label: MCA MAPS-6244
Conductor: Patrick Flynn
John Paul Young
1. Heaven On Their Minds
2. Everything's Alright (4:20)
3. Hosanna (2:00)
4. Simon Zealotes
5. Poor Jerusalem (4:42)
6. Pilate's Dream (1:35)
7. The Temple (4:38)
8. Everything's Alright (0:28)
9. I Don't Know How To Love Him (3:24)
10. The Last Supper (6:55)
11. Gethsemane (6:12)
12. Could We Start Again Please
13. Trial Before Pilate (6:34)
14. Superstar (4:03)
15. John 19:41 (2:20)
REFERENCES / LINKS
Many thanks to Mark Ellison for providing the photographs featured in this article
Andrew Lloyd Webber Online
Andrew Lloyd Webber biography
National Library of Australia
"Michael Wade: It was 40 years ago today"
Dymocks/SMH Literary Luncheon
Sir Tim Rice - unofficial website
Michael Carlos biography
The Cast Album Database
ABC-TV: Talking Heads - Jon English
(originally screened 3 Oct. 2005)
IMDb - Trevor