Jesus Christ Superstar Australian Tribute 50 years

Rebecca Varidel
14th Jul 2022

Before the musical Broadway and West End show then later film Jesus Christ Superstar - with the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice - was originally conceived in 1970 as a rock opera concept album.

The music announced the mood for the decade and is both of its time and timeless. If you are familiar with some other musical theatre of prolific composer Andrew Lloyd Webber - such as Phantom Of The Opera, Evita and Cats - Jesus Christ Superstar is one of his most powerful works. I Don't Know How to Love Him which completes side one of the album (yes there was only vinyl back then) is possibly, even considering his The Music Of The Night, the greatest song of his career.

Jesus Christ Superstar starts in the overture with a teasing guitar solo leading us to a questioning by Judas as we follow (based on some of the events in the Gospels) Jesus of Nazareth in the last week of his life, with the support of electronic guitars and bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano, organ, Moog synthesiser and drums.

In Australia, the original Harry M. Miller stage production premiered on May 4th 1972 directed by Jim Sharman (of The Rocky Horror Show) and Jesus Christ Superstar – Original Australian Cast Recording was released later in that year. While there are a number of albums of Jesus Christ Superstar with differing international casts available throughout its 50 year history, I love the rawness vibrancy sensitivity and energy of the first Australian (MCA Records) version above all the others. Maybe as an Aussie, I'm biased.

The original Australian cast introduced the ethereal Trevor White as Jesus whose haunting version of Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) is performed with a desperate sense of resignation. In this song White wavers from doubt to power with immense sensitivity, creates extremes of musical light and shade with softness and intensity, with incredible musical timing. As one of the greatest musical theatre songs, White gives in this recording of Gethsemane the greatest performance from across the years and the international casts. On this 1972 album, Michelle Fawdon (better known for her leading role in Cathy's Child, and as an actress in many television series) as Mary Magdelene sings Could We Start Again Please with a touching innocence. Following the album, Marcia Hines joined the Australian cast on stage and gave more punch to the key song of Mary Magdelene, I Don't Know How To Love Him which she also recorded as a solo piece.

As Judas, Jon English introduces us to the album with his raw and edgy vocals.

Heaven on Their Minds

My mind is clearer now
At last
All too well
I can see
Where we all
Soon will be
If you strip away
The myth
From the man
You will see
Where we all
Soon will be

You've started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe
This talk of God is true

And all the good you've done
Will soon be swept away
You've begun to matter more
Than the things you say

Listen Jesus
I don't like what I see
All I ask is that you listen to me
And remember
I've been your right hand man all along
You have set them all on fire
They think they've found the new Messiah
And they'll hurt you when they find they're wrong

I remember when this whole thing began
No talk of God then, we called you a man
And believe me
My admiration for you hasn't died
But every word you say today
Gets twisted 'round some other way
And they'll hurt you if they think you've lied

Nazareth's most famous son
Should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood
He'd have made good
Tables, chairs and oaken chests
Would have suited Jesus best
He'd have caused nobody harm
No one alarm

Listen Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don't you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied
Have you forgotten how put down we are?
I am frightened by the crowd
For we are getting much too loud
And they'll crush us if we go too far
If we go too far

Listen Jesus to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
But it's sad to see our chances weakening with ev'ry hour
All your followers are blind
Too much heaven on their minds
It was beautiful, but now it's sour
Yes it's all gone sour
Ah --- ah ah ah --- ah
God Jesus, it's all gone sour

Listen Jesus to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
So come on, come on, listen to me.
Ah --- ah
Come on, listen, listen to me.
Come on and listen to me.
Ah --- ah

Rock superstar, singer, songwriter, musician and actor, Jon English was born in England but went to school in Sydney at Cabramatta High School.

Following the success of Jesus Christ Superstar, English went on to have his own solid solo career.

As well as Jesus Christ Superstar, English was best known and loved for his Top 20 hits Turn the Page, Hollywood Seven, Words are Not Enough, Six Ribbons and Hot Town, his television role in Against the Wind, and his athletic stage performances in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance.

The Australian cast of Jesus Christ Superstar was filled to the brim with Australian talent that furthered their own outstanding careers, some already stars and some went on to become them - John Paul Young, Reg Livermore, Doug Parkingson, Michael Caton, Steve Wright to name just a few...

30 years ago Jesus was later played by John Farnham (then Darryl Lovegrove), with Kate Ceberano and Jon Stevens leading the 1992 Australian cast.