Program, 'Jesus Christ Superstar', paper, made for Harry M Miller by Land Printers Pty Ltd, Lidcombe, New South Wales, used by Norma Keech, Australia, 1972
This program is from Australia's first production of the rock opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. Produced by Harry M. Miller, it was a lavish and expensive enterprise, the major Australian stage production of the early 1970s. The director was Jim Sharman and the musical director was Patrick Flynn. Their creative contributions had helped make Miller's Australian production of the musical 'Hair' so successful in 1969.
By arrangement with Robert Stigwood, Miller secured the rights to stage the Australian production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. He leased from Sydney City Council the Capitol Theatre, an old and decrepit building that he renovated and altered to accommodate the large production and Brian Thomson's innovative set design. Massive sound and lighting systems were installed. The theatre's façade received a coat of brown paint, as Miller recalled in his first autobiography:
'I chose brown as the colour for the outside paint job. It was the dominant colour on posters advertising 'Superstar' in New York and struck me as just right for the show. We couldn't find the right shade so Taubmans mixed one specially for us. It was such a success that it went into their range as Superstar Brown (Harry M. Miller, 'My Story', Macmillan, 1983, p204).
Prior to opening, Miller received letters from people objecting to the production on religious grounds. Placard-carrying protesters gathered outside the Capitol Theatre on opening night. However many people with religious convictions had no objection to 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. The Sydney evangelist Rev Alan Walker, for example, endorsed it. The show opened on 4 May 1972 and, over the next four years, two million people saw it in Australia and New Zealand.
Miller wrote that 'Superstar exemplified my own sense of achievement in theatre. The production cradled so much young talent and creative ingenuity that I would be proud to be judged by it alone as my contribution to theatre in Australia. Of the many recollected joys I am perhaps fondest of the way in which the show acted as a catalyst on the careers of many of its contributors' (Harry M. Miller, 'My Story', Macmillan, 1983, p228).
'Jesus Christ Superstar' certainly provided the springboard for a new generation of young creative people in Australia's theatrical and rock circles. Jon English played Judas throughout the show's Australasian run. His passionate portrayal provided a contrast to Trevor White's more serene Jesus. Judas was presented as a sort of common man asking questions of Jesus that summed up the attitude of the opera. The nightly ordeal of Judas' suicide by hanging was redressed by his dramatic return in a red and black jumpsuit to sing the finale, the show's title song. Jon English's solo career was founded on the exposure that his 'Superstar' success gave him. Michele Fawdon played the lead female part of Mary Magdalene, a role later taken by Marcia Hines, on her way to becoming Australia's Queen of Pop. John Paul Young played Annas. Rory O'Donoghue had the role of Peter. Tommy Dysart and Michael Caton played priests in this production, long before they became familiar faces on television. 'Jesus Christ Superstar' was also the birthplace of the soft rock band Air Supply. Although not listed in this program, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock joined the cast in Melbourne as apostles and principal understudies.
Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the music. Their text about the development of the concept that appears on p17 of this program sums up their approach: 'Basically, the idea of our whole opera is to have Christ seen through the eyes of Judas, with Christ as a man, not as a god'.
While the early 1970s is remembered as a time of hedonism, rebellion and hippie culture, it was a period of spiritual searching among young people. Cults like the Moonies, Divine Light Mission, the Children of God and the Hare Krishnas recruited the young and the innocent. Many seekers swapped a life of free love and dope for celibacy, chanting and meditation. Traditional religions struggled to remain up-to-date in the modern world. This was the era of rock masses, funky priests and disciples who were collectively known as 'Jesus freaks' by non-believing hippies. 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and, to a lesser extent, 'Godspell' (another rock musical based on the life of Christ), tapped into the spiritual curiosity of young people and made religion seem hip and relevant.