On 4 May 1972, the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar opened at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney – it was the most anticipated and lavish theatre event in Australian musical theatre history.
The original rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), told the story of the final week in the life of Jesus Christ through the troubled eyes of Judas Iscariot.
Directed by one of the most gifted directors on the Sydney theatre scene, Jim Sharman, this 1973 performance features the incomparable charisma and sterling voices of Jon English (Judas), Marcia Hines (Mary Magdalene), Trevor White (Jesus), John Paul Young (Annas), Reg Livermore (King Herod) and Stevie Wright (Simon Zealotes).
Sharman went on to direct the original theatre production of The Rocky Horror Show and the subsequent film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course, Jon, Marcia, John Paul and Stevie are renowned as among Australia’s most famous pop stars, much beloved by all fans of Countdown and beyond.
Despite the positive nature of the rock opera, the local production was beset by controversy. Protesters were out in force in Sydney, offended by the perceived blasphemous nature of the show. Placards were raised in anger – “Jesus Christ is our Saviour, not a Super Star” – with theatre patrons, and even Jon English on one occasion, being jostled by the crowds.
To make matters worse there was also a bomb threat which, fortunately, proved to be unfounded. The initial backlash was all a storm in a teacup because Jesus Christ Superstar emerged as a celebrated crowd favourite and ran for a record-breaking three years.
And it is remarkable to consider that in the 46 years since the debut of the original Australian stage production, there has never been a recording released of the actual live show from that time. There exists in its memory only a vinyl studio cast album, some photographs, and a few snippets of visual footage on the internet. That is, until now.
Aztec Records now delivers, on double CD, a stirring performance from December 1973 that captures the entire show in all of its glory. It features the incomparable charisma and sterling voices of Jon English, Marcia Hines, Trevor White, John Paul Young, Reg Livermore and Stevie Wright.
Getting the live recording released to the public has been a labour of love for Jon English’s long-term partner and manager, Coralea Cameron, who is dedicated to keeping his memory alive. Landing the role of Judas at the age of 22 was English’s big break into what was to become a long and incredibly successful and diverse career in the Australian entertainment industry.
“Jon and I had been working on this project for many years,” says Coralea. “We tried to get the recording out for the 40th anniversary in 2012, but for various reasons, not the least being that the Really Useful Group were bringing their own updated version of the stage show to Australia [starring Tim Minchin], we shelved the idea. We were working on it for the 45th anniversary when Jon sadly and so unexpectedly left us.”
Coralea says that working on things in Jon’s memory is what has kept her going. “I was determined that I was going to make this happen for Jon, and indeed for the Australian public who I really felt deserved to hear it.” She again contacted the Harry M Miller Group, and the show’s authors, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice and was thrilled when they each gave their blessing. “It all just fell into place from there really.”
“I have no clue as to how well it will be received,” says Coralea. “It’s 45 years old after all, and it was something that was originally just recorded for the cast and crew. It’s not perfect, but when you hear it, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself transported back to your seat as if you were reliving the incredible experience of being there all over again.”
The double CD, complete with a 20 page booklet of liner notes and photographs is now available through Aztec Records – with part of the proceeds being donated to the music industry charity, Support Act.
Image: Jesus Christ Superstar – courtesy of Aztec Records
Source: Aztec Records