Entertainment

He knows Jesus

Ted Neeley is an actor, singer, composer, but the thing he'll be forever remembered for his role as Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar."

It's been a constant in his life since 1971 when he was part of the original Broadway cast. Later, he starred in the 1976 movie version that was filmed in Israel. And for the past 20 years or so, he's been touring the world in the role.

For many, Ted Neeley brings life to Jesus Christ.

When asked how many years he's played Jesus, he said, "Slightly over 2,000 years. I couldn't pass that one up."

Now 63, the ever-energetic Neeley became serious when he says he's grown as a person by doing this show for the past 30-odd years.

Neeley, who was born in a small Texas town, "with churches on every corner," says religion was a big part of his life growing up.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote "Jesus Christ Superstar," showing the final week of Christ's life through the eyes of his friends and enemies. Jesus was seen as a man. Neeley said he had no background on that. So when he was offered the role in late 1970, he turned to Nikos Kazantzaki's book, "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"I studied that constantly," Neeley said.

Over the years, he's applied what he learned, and he says it's been spiritually rewarding for him. When the show first opened, it was to a firestorm of controversy. But as people began to see the play and later the film, the controversy died down.

"I don't feel this show has much to do with religion," he said. "It's the life of Christ seen through the eyes of his friends and foes, who all saw him as a man. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice deliberately ended the show with the crucifixion and not the resurrection.

"As it turns out, all the people I've spoken to over the years, the human side of the man is what they most appreciate about this piece. Webber and Rice gave us the humanity of Christ."

But the most rewarding thing for Neeley is meeting and working with hundreds of children during each tour. "I have seen so many wonderful children who are all mesmerized by this concept (of Jesus as a human being). It's just a glorious experience from that spiritual point of view."

This is the first time that Neeley has gone on tour without Carl Anderson. Anderson, who played Judas, died three years ago.

"How much time do you have? I decided to try this without his presence. But his spirit is always there." In his place is Corey Glover, best known for his band Living Colour.

"Corey Glover is doing a wonderful job," Neeley said. "I honestly believe Carl found him for us."

It took about 18 months to cast the role of Judas for this tour, Neeley said. Around the time they were about to give up, Glover called and said he'd heard they were casting the role and asked to could he audition.

"He was quite intimidated by the role," Neeley said. "He came up to me and said, 'Jesus, I have a confession to make.’ ”

And that's when he told Neeley that he was intimidated by Anderson's legacy. Glover said he'd been influenced by Anderson to be a singer after his grandmother took him to see the movie. Glover was 9 at the time.

"He pays tribute to Carl every night," Neeley said.

With all the people he's worked with over the years, Neeley says this cast is the best.

"They're just amazed they are doing this piece," he said. "They have a wonderful energy. The oldest person in the cast is 26 years old . . . and that would be me."

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