It has been said that, through theatre, Shakespeare emphasized the flaws and foibles of regular human beings. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice go back to the ancient tradition of bringing the powerful story of the dying God into mainstream public entertainment, just as Euripides did, in his play "The Bacchae," with the Greek god Dionysos long before Jesus was even born.
The dramatization of Jesus' death is not new at all - it was performed onstage in the Middle Ages and Renaissance all the time. Most recently, Mel Gibson directed a very powerful film version starring Jim Caviezel. However, Webber and Rice add the dimension of rock 'n' roll to the Passion Play, and the music and lyrics are easy for the audience to carry in their minds and, today, on their iPods. Ted Neeley is a very strong Jesus whom we can imagine creating things made out of wood as easily as He can heal the sick and spread the message of hope. We see the concern and anguish in his face as he confronts Judas Iscariot (Carl Anderson), and, with a stroke of genius, Rice has Jesus calling him a "Judas", which has since become an insult word meaning "traitor"! Pontius Pilate's song is particularly poignant, as Pilate speculates his own name being dragged down in infamy. Rice has also taken a word associated with the entertainment industry and has made it sacred - the word "Superstar." By thinking of Jesus as a Superstar, we both relate to Him and stand in awe of Him at the same time - He is our Friend, but He is also the King of Kings.
I was only able to give the Plot 3 stars because the very essence of the Christian religion - Jesus' Resurrection - is omitted. The movie would have been far more powerful had it shown the sorrowful tears of Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Eliman) turning to tears of joy as she is one of the first to see Jesus after His triumphant Resurrection. In fact, up until the 19th Century, Easter, and not Christmas, was the predominant holiday in European and European-Influenced society. Consequently, it is all the more disappointing that this important aspect of Jesus' story is missing from this film.
There were also a couple of minor costume errors. First, Ciaphas and the other Priests wore oversized black hats that resembled bad onions, which detracted from both their rank and their evil nature. Fortunately, the singers who portray them enabled me to see both their importance and their wickedness.
The white robe that Neeley wears is out of place in this setting. Jesus worked as a carpenter. Old jeans, a tattered T-shirt, and a warm jacket would be a much more appropriate costume, considering that Jesus was very rugged and moved around all the time. I believe the white robe that we see on many actors and models depicting Jesus first came into being in 1209, when St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the "What Would Jesus Do?" philosophy, wore one as a sign of humility, and which, today, signifies monasticism and the priesthood.
On the whole, I found this film an excellent way to present the Gospel, and to honor Jesus' death, by unjust crucifixion, at age 33. Due to the tasteful way in which this tragedy is depicted, I believe this movie is very appropriate for children 11 and under and for sensitive people. I also make sure to watch it on Good Friday in order to enrich my own respect and admiration for the Ultimate Superstar, Jesus.