Kane County Chronicle

Just Asking... 'Jesus Christ Superstar' actor Ted Neeley

Eric Schelkopf - eschelkopf@nwnewsgroup.com Although Ted Neeley is not the only actor to play the role of Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," he is the one most identified with the role after portraying the messiah in the 1973 movie of the same name.

Thirty-five years later, the 64-year-old Neeley is currently starring in the stage version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which runs Tuesday through Feb. 24 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. Corey Glover (lead singer for the rock band Living Colour) plays Judas in the production.

Neeley did not originally want the part of Jesus, as he revealed in a recent interview.

What’s been the greatest thrill for you in doing these shows?

Basically, just being part of the piece every night. I think probably the only way you can understand that is if you can stand in my sandals every night and see what that feels like. It is absolutely amazing to be on stage in the middle of this process. I just put on the sandals, I throw on the robe, and I walk to the side of the stage and that guitar starts screaming out the first few bars of the overture, and literally, the music carries me into somewhere else.

How does Corey Glover do in the role of Judas?

Audiences just love him everywhere he goes. Of course, everybody misses Carl Anderson (who played the role in the film). He was supposed to be Judas in this tour, but leukemia took him out in 2004. We’re so fortunate that Corey was able to do it. He told me early on in rehearsal that when he was a child, his grandmother took him to see this movie. The movie was what made him decide he wanted to be an entertainer. He is the world’s biggest fan of Carl’s ability, so in essence he plays tribute to Carl every night, though he makes the role his own.

What initially attracted you to the role in the movie?

What attracted me to the role was when the director told me, after I openly and honestly auditioned for the role of Judas, that he liked very much what I had just done, but he wanted me to come back the next day and sing the other guy. I wanted to play Judas. Everybody in the world knows Jesus. Nobody knows anything about Judas, so to me that was a great opportunity to create the character. But they had other thoughts. So I’ve been singing the other guy ever since.

Do you feel a lot of pressure after being identified with the role of Jesus for so long?

There’s certainly a typecasting, no doubt about that. But if I’m going to be typecast, I’d much rather be Jesus than Charlie Manson.

Because you did get the role of Jesus in the film, what did you set out to do? What did you want to accomplish?

To do the best I possibly could, to emulate the essence of Christ in every possible way. And again, that’s another reason why I didn’t want to play the role, because everybody in the world knows Jesus. He is probably the most well-known icon, so everyone has an opinion about who he was and what he had to do. It was my job I felt once I was cast in the role to do everything I possibly could to emulate the physical and spiritual presence of Christ. I still to this day work desperately to maintain that.

Do you have any favorite parts in the production?

I love the whole piece. However, for my own personal feeling, by far the best moment in the whole piece is a song called “Gethsemane.” It happens right after the Last Supper. It comes right after Jesus and Judas have had their final confrontation, and Jesus challenges him to go off and do as he is supposed to do. Judas runs away, and all the apostles go to sleep. Jesus goes off to the garden of Gethsemane alone, and talks to his father about what is about to happen. It is an epiphany for me, nightly. It is just something that happens, and we can feel the audience right in the middle of it when it does happen.

What is the message of “Jesus Christ Superstar?”

It’s about humanity. It has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It is based upon the most famous religious icon in Christianity, obviously, but it is about that man when he walked on the earth, and about the people whom he was associated with and how their lives were affected by his presence. It’s called “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but it’s not a one-man show. It shows you the commitment [with which] each person dealt with this phenomenon at this time. It’s all about how each person can step up to the bar and stay with the commitment even unto death.

“Jesus Christ Superstar”

WHEN: Tuesday through Feb. 24

WHERE: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago

TICKETS: $22.50 to $72.50

INFORMATION: 312-559-1212 or www.ticketmaster.com