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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Superstar and me

I think all generations are defined to a certain extent by the music of their teenage years (I suspect this is for no other reason than teenagers are the only ones with time to devote to listening to music!).  For me that was the 1970s. I completely missed the 1980s (marriage, children et.) and nothing since has impacted on me in the same way as the last of the classically trained musicians did in the 1970s. 

By far the greatest influence on my musical tastes of the time was the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice (up to and including Cats...You can keep Phantom of the Opera). The brilliance of their marketing was in releasing a studio album of their upcoming blockbuster a year before it ever hit the stage, thus ensuring everyone knew the music and was hanging out for the stage show. So it was with Jesus Christ Superstar. Other defining (non Lloyd Webber) musical works of the day included Godspell and Hair (but I was too young to ever be allowed to see Hair and I don't think I have ever seen it!).


The original studio recording
When I was 13, our local church started a "youth group". To show how incredibly cool and hip they were, the leaders procured the just released album of Superstar and devoted an hour each week to playing some of it to us...we would then of course discuss the biblical story and theological implications behind the music. Forget the bible, I was captivated by the music and saving my pocket money, bought that first double LP in its plain brown cover with just the simple logo on it - I think it cost about $5.00 (a huge sum in those days!). I played it almost to death on my parents ghastly 3-in-one "stereo". It still sits in a cupboard, unplayed in these days of CDs).

The first Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar came to the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda in about 1973. A school excursion was arranged and we were bussed there and back. Deep theological discussions were held on that return trip (it was a C of E girls school!). That first production starred Trevor White, Michelle Fawdon (later Marcia Hines) and the biggest heart throb of all, Jon English - tall and rangy with dark, soulful eyes you could drown in. I've always thought the character of Judas the more interesting of the two leads and Jon made it his own.


The original Australian production - Jon English and Trevor White

There were later productions, including a "concert" tour in the early 1990s with Jon Farnham as Jesus (and Jon Stevens who plays Pilate in the current  production, playing Judas). But there has been no full scale production until the "Arena Spectacular", conceived in Britain and on its "world tour", hit Melbourne last week. 

No dusty Palais Theatre this time...the rock concert venue of the Rod Laver Arena (familiar to lovers of tennis).  I took my 17 year old niece as an excuse, interested in part to see how this new generation, brought up away from the influence of church youth groups, reacted to the story (she loved it but says she still prefers Phantom of the Opera). My generation were there in hordes and even the total strangers we sat next to were happy to reminisce with me about that original 1973 production.

The lights went down, the familiar haunting overture began and I was lost! I could not have forseen how fresh, this re-imagining of Superstar (set vaguely around the "Occupy" movement of 2012)...this now 40 year old musical...could be. You must understand I know EVERY word...I even know the musical interludes so yes, I picked up where they tweaked the words or slipped an extra verse in, but I sat entranced. When it was over I wanted it all to start again. The music of my generation revived and revisited. I was 14 again and seeing it all for the very first time. 


The Arena Spectacular
At interval I slipped out and bought the DVD (so I can watch it all again) and the "digitally remastered" CD of that original studio recording. Now I can play that familiar music again...and again...and again...and this time there will be no parent telling me to "Give it a rest!"

Oh and I have a new heartthrob...sorry Jon English but you have totally been forsaken for Tim Minchin of the eye coal and dreadlocks. He took that role from you and invested such humanity in Judas - thank heavens he is on the DVD...


Tim Minchin as Judas


 So...what music defined your growing up?

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