by Stefania Del Monte

Jesus Christ Superstar is a unique story in the musical theatre scene. The famous work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice does not suffer from the signs of time; indeed, it is attracting a constantly increasing number of spectators: over 300 thousand those who, only between 2014 and 2016, in Italy and Europe have chosen to see the production by Peep Arrow.

And if, after so many successes, this show continues to excite both the public and the critics, the credit goes to the great artistic and productive work of Massimo Romeo Piparo and his team, who were able to transport the driving force of a universal story with skill on the scene, but also and above all the unquestionable artistic excellence of the cast, first of all Ted Neeley, protagonist of the historical Norman Jewison film of 1973, which gave an indelible mark to the role of Jesus.

It is he, the legendary and timeless Ted Neeley, who tells us about this incredible experience, and more.

Life b.C.: Your career as a singer started back in the 1960s, after moving from Texas to New York.  How did you go from your debut to becoming Jesus Christ?

Before my journey in New York began, while I happily sang and played drums in our Rock’n’Roll Band from Texas, I was chosen for my first professional theatre experience to play Claude Hooper Bukowski in the amazing Rock Musical, “HAIR” in Hollywood. Then came “Superstar” on Broadway, then The Who’s “TOMMY” in Hollywood, then “Superstar” in Hollywood and then came the Norman Jewison production of the first Rock Opera to be made into a feature film, “Jesus Christ Superstar”!

After performing Jesus over 5,000 times in the last 46 years, you declared in an interview “you would love to be able to do this show another 2,000 years”. What drives you after all this time?

Everything within the success of Jesus Christ Superstar exists because Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had the courage and unique collaborative talent to create this adaptation of the last 7 days in the life of the Man called Jesus of Nazareth, as seen through the eyes of his friends and his adversaries. And they composed it as a modern day Rock Opera. I am inspired by every heartfelt moment that lives within the powerful music and lyrics we all sing together during each performance. It is always uplifting, always new.

Is there a particular performance that you will never forget or that you consider as your best ever? 

As I stated above, by adapting the 2,000 year old celebration of the Man called Jesus of Nazareth into this modern day Rock Opera, Andrew and Tim created a new, everlasting source for new generations to appreciate the loving, heartfelt, spiritual experience within this celebration of music. For I feel this every night. So, each performance is unforgettable. Therefore, it becomes the best ever.

You starred in the movie JCS in 1973 and in all major JCS musicals since 1971. Each experience must have been different. What aspects of the current Italian production led you to accept the role in the first place?

The renowned Italian theatrical producer, director Massimo Romeo Piparo invited me to take part in his 20th Anniversary Celebration of Jesus Christ Superstar being presented in Italy. “What? You do this Rock Opera in Rome? Are you kidding me?” Of course, I accepted his invitation immediately! And as we began rehearsals for this presentation, I loved every aspect of his concept for this remarkable Italian production.

Career-wise, do you have any unfulfilled dreams?

There are always multiple projects being done at the same time and I am aware of many I definitely would have pursued the chance of being included as one of the collaborators. Yet, when you have already been given the unique artistic gift of participating within this magnificent event, you find you are no longer in the process of thinking about what could be out there on the horizon. You are focusing solely upon what is right, here right now. I began living my dreams during the first experience we discovered together, as we all shared the deeply moving passion living within this emotional Rock Opera.

What sort of challenges, a performer who is moving the first steps in his career now, would be facing? Would it be easier or more difficult to emerge, today?

Pursuing a career in the entertainment industry has never been easy. However, it is the extreme competition that becomes the greatest obstacle we face, no matter what profession we may choose. Therefore, we must accept and be completely prepared to face all of the competition, to rise above all obstacles and without question. We must always believe unconditionally in ourselves and respectfully pursue our purpose in life. We must be absolutely be prepared to achieve our goal. As in the Olympics, it is always the person who works the most diligently in preparation who wins the gold medal.

Who is Ted Neeley in real life? What do you like and how do you like to spend your free time?

I love my family. I love spending all of the time together with them whenever is possible, doing anything. I love my friends, animals, especially dogs, movies, live theatre, live concerts, sports and seeing and laughing with comedians.

I love seeing the sun rise and set, seeing the moon rise and smile, and I love seeing the remarkable cloud formations high above or directly touching the mountains, while they change the flow of sunlight over all of Mother Nature’s creations. And I crave one to one, face-to-face, open subject extensive friendly conversations anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

On May 1st you and your wife, Leeyan Granger, have celebrated your 38th wedding anniversary (best wishes, by the way!). You actually met on the set of JCS. What is the secret for keeping a relationship working, in the hectic life of a performer (or two, in this case)?

Thank you, Stefania! Leeyan and I appreciate your best wishes for our 38th Wedding Anniversary. And with deepest respect for your kind concerns, I can’t say there is a secret for keeping a relationship working. I believe, with all things being equal for and between two loving people, there is a mutual discovery of love and life. I feel there is a continual loving and respectful heart to heart open-minded discovery of our lives together, as one, as we grow even closer with each passing day.  We will always face challenges, which we can always rise above and overcome together. So we can live, love, laugh and continue being happy together, while two loving spirits become as one.

(Images: Margot de Heide)

Go to Ciao Magazine for the interview in Italian