Jesus Christ Superstar

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
This is not symbolic.

Every time I look at you I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned;
Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation--
Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication!
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ! Who are You? What have You sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar, do You think You're what they say You are?

A Rock Opera and (subverted?) Passion Play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Originally released as a Concept Album in 1970, Jesus Christ Superstar made its way to the Broadway and London stage in 1971 and was filmed as a major movie in 1973. An updated version was recorded sometime around 2000 by Webber's Really Useful Group for PBS, and the show lives on in stage production and tours to this day. Inspired By certain sections of The Bible, it chronicles the last seven days of Jesus' life, focusing mainly on the characters of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. It's regarded among Andrew Lloyd Webber's best works. It's sort of a sequel to Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, though this took a bit more liberty with the source material.

Depending on the production, the actors and settings in the show are portrayed with blends of modern and biblical-era clothing and motifs, running with the idea of Jesus being a rockstar-like figure (something not always appreciated by the Moral Guardians), the Apostles being counter-cultural radicals, and the Romans dressing in black leather and taking a Big Brother Is Watching approach to running The Empire. The 2000 filmed version updates the visual metaphors... specifically, setting it in a modern-day dystopic version of the Roman Empire with Nazi-esque guards, and Jesus' followers appear to be a street gang. Who're seen toting submachine guns and assault rifles at times. The plot is pretty much the same, but with different things emphasized; Annas, for instance, appears in many more scenes than in the '73 version and in a very different light, the Ho Yay between Judas and Jesus is played up to the point of a Love Triangle with Mary Magdalene, and some other things.

Tropes used in Jesus Christ Superstar include:

Jesus: You have nothing in your hands. Any power you have comes to you from far beyond. Everything is fixed, and you can't change it.

  • Bigger Than Jesus: Er... Actually "bigger than John was, when John did his baptism thing".
  • BSOD Song: A line from Judas' Death is the page quote for the trope in question.
  • Camp: Pilate is highly, shall we say, "exaggerated", especially in the 39 lashes.
  • Camp Gay: Herod, in many productions. In the 1973 film, he's practically an Expy of Elton John.
    • Also subverted in some of these; it's a façade that he keeps to hide his actual accent.
      • In Real Life, Herod was a notorious womanizer, and the whole Camp Gay thing was something his detractors made up to discredit him. Thus, some productions (including the 2000 film) now portray Herod as a Seedy Hollywood Agent/1980s yuppie-type who seems to be tolerating Jesus' presence as a favor to a friend.
    • The 1996 London Cast Recording got Alice Cooper to sing the Herod song. Make of that what you will.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Jesus in "Gethsemane"
    • Judas in every song, especially as played by Carl Anderson.
    • Pilate in every song, really.
    • Justified in that this is a rock opera. Both Rock and Opera are known for not exactly being realist drama.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Simon gets an entire song dedicated to how he and the other hangers-on think Jesus is there to violently overthrow the Romans.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: Pilate.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Judas regards himself as one at the end.
  • Darker and Edgier: In 1998, Webber said that he wanted to give a new design for the musical, saying that the funky disco and sequined leisure suits were fresh for its time, but he wanted to make it into something the younger people could relate to. When making the 2000 version he wanted it to be grittier and darker than the earlier versions.
  • Dark Reprise: Several. Both "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Hosanna" have dark reprises. When Jesus accuses his followers of not caring about him at the end of "What's the Buzz", they answer with "No, you're wrong, how can you say that?" which is set to the same music used later for "Now we've got him, take him to Pilate." And meanwhile "Damned For All Time/Blood Money", which wasn't pleasant to begin with, gets even worse the second time around.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Judas. And how.
  • Double-Speak: It isn't blood money. It's a fee, nothing more. Right, Judas?
  • Downer Ending: The story ends after the crucifixion, so it can seem a bit depressing if you're unfamiliar with the supplementary materials.
    • Ending the story before the Resurrection was one of the things that ticked off the Moral Guardians when it first appeared, and can still be found today, even though the show is explicitly described as "the last days of Jesus' life".
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: "Pilate's Dream".

Then I saw thousands of millions crying for this man
And then I heard them mentioning my name... and leaving me the blame.

  • Epic Rocking: "The Last Supper." Also, "Overture", "Heaven on Their Minds", "What's the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying", and "Everything's Alright" are all performed as one extremely long song, clocking in at about 17 minutes (!)
  • Evil Is Hammy: Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, Annas.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Caiaphas, the high priest responsible for Jesus' trial, is usually a bass.
    • This is emphasized by pairing him with Annas, who usually has a high, squeaky voice.
  • Exact Words / Historical In-Joke:

Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel! / You'll be remembered forever for this."

  • External Retcon: Retells the story from Judas's perspective.
  • Face Palm: Judas's reaction to Simon's song in the 2000 version.
    • Jesus at the start of Herod's song in the same version.
  • Fan Service: The 2000 filmed version has a shirtless Pilate and dominatrix angels.
    • Not to mention the apostles in leather pants. And Jesus's tight cargo pants. And the entire temple scene.
    • In the seventies film version, the high priests all go shirtless. And Caiaphas is ripped.
    • The 1973 version also has a rare occurrence of male Absolute Cleavage, in the form of Judas' shirt.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a Passion Play. It Was His Sled territory by default.
  • Framing Device
  • Ghost Song: Judas comes back to sing the title song as Jesus is marched up to the crucifixion site. (See page quote).
  • God Test: Quoth Herod to Jesus, "Prove to me that you're no fool/Walk upon my swimming pool."
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The show's not quite subtle about its color palette. Jesus is always in white and khaki. Judas is in red and, especially after his betrayal, black. Mary Magdalene is usually in red, but changes to white for "Could We Start Again, Please?" The High Priests wear black. Pilate wears purple (which denotes royalty). The apostles are usually in greens and blues.
    • Oddly done in different ways in the movies. In the '70s, Judas returns as an angel, dressed all in white with a wing-like fringe on his arms. In the 2000 version, Judas and his backup are clad all in red leather, thus implying that he's a demon.
  • Hair of Gold: Jesus in the 1973 film. Also Peter, to a lesser extent.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Jesus and Judas go up against each other in notes so high it would take a miracle to duplicate.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The High Priests and Pharisees.
  • Hippie Jesus: Christ and the Apostles as hippies.
    • Especially, of course, in the 1973 version. At one point, after Judas riles Jesus by suggesting he not spend time with ex-prostitutes, one of the followers says "Hey, cool it, man!"
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Inverted. The key individuals responsible for Jesus's death (Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate) are given much more sympathetic depictions than almost anywhere else. Herod's still a jerk, though.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mary Magdalene.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: Jesus Christ Superstar is (among other things) built like a point-counterpoint debate regarding who and what Jesus was. While Mary Magdalene and the apostle Simon represent two very different versions of Jesus Was Way Cool, Pontius Pilate goes down the "Jesus Was Crazy" road -- trying to defend Jesus by arguing that he's insane. See page quote.
    • Note that the "cool vs crazy" debate is not about being for or against Jesus. Pilate is trying to save him, while Caiaphas, who is trying to get him crucified, subscribes to the "Jesus is cool" camp. In the initial scene, Judas is still loyal to Jesus, and yet complains about how Jesus is turning increasingly mentally unstable under the pressure from his believers.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Even Caiaphas is impressed.

Caiaphas: One thing I'll say for him, Jesus is cool.

    • To be honest, though, Caiaphas is not saying "OMG Jesus is awesome" but admiring how carefully low-key Jesus is about his "campaign", crediting him with a politically-savvy calm.
  • Karma Houdini: Extreme, when you consider the fates of Judas and Peter -- betray Jesus once, suicide and eternal damnation. Deny him three times, become the first pope.
    • Zig-zagged to some extent: Judas' acts lead to the death of Jesus, Peter's were arguably harmless. Many believe Judas was forgiven and allowed into heaven, while Peter was forced to watch the gates for all eternity. Then again Jesus was supposed to die because God said so, so Judas was actually instrumental in God's plan. Then again again suicide is supposed to be a one way ticket to hell. It's all quite confusing.
    • Some have argued that the main difference between what Judas did and what Peter did, is that Peter didn't kill himself and stayed around long enough for Jesus to forgive him. Maybe Judas would've been forgiven if he'd stuck around.

Judas: (in his death song) Does he-- does he love me, too? Does he care for me?!

  • Meaningful Background Event: During "Simon Zealotes" in the 1973 film version, Roman soldiers can be seen gathering to observe the commotion. Judas is also in the background, visibly disturbed by the events before storming off during the next song, "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Medium Awareness: When Jesus is being taken to trial, one of his fans confidently shouts, "You'll escape in the final reel!" Unfortunately ...
  • The Messiah / Messianic Archetype: Self Explanatory.
  • Metal Scream: Inspired by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple (as Jesus) and Murray Head (as Judas) on the original Concept Album. Ted Neely (as Jesus) and Carl Anderson, an understudy for Ben Vereen (as Judas) became famous for the roles on stage and film, since Gillan and Head had become too successful as musicians to perform, and duplicating their vocal range can be quite difficult for other actors. Interestingly, Murray Head is not black; Ben Vereen and subsequently Carl Anderson pioneered that idea, in no small part because Anderson simply had the voice for the notes.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Jesus and Judas in the 1973 film.
  • Mood Whiplash: A disturbing amount for a religion-based story. The juxtaposition of Mary Magdalene's sweet Crap Saccharine World anthem "Everything's Alright" with Judas's angry accusations against her probably qualifies. An even better example is the jarring shift (at least on the concept album) from King Herod's comical music-hall number to Judas's histrionic reaction to seeing the scourging of Jesus.
  • Movie Bonus Song: An unusual example. While many film versions of stage musicals include an original Award Bait Song, the only new song featured is the short Villain Song between Annas and Caiaphas, "Then We Are Decided."
    • "Could We Start Again, Please?" is often mistaken for one of these by fans of the original album. However, it was actually added for the original Broadway production a few years before the movie.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hoo boy. Judas does not take this whole betrayal thing well.
  • New Age Retro Hippie: Extremely pronounced. This and Hair are probably the most New Age Retro Hippie plays that exist. Not really "retro" when the film/play/soundtrack was first produced, but Jesus' followers are portrayed as counter-cultural hippies and Judas and the Zealots are portrayed as members of the New Left. This is especially pronounced in the film.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Herod in the 2000 version is Florenz Ziegfeld.
  • No Indoor Voice: Judas (in the style of Carl Anderson, at least).
  • Oh Crap: In the 2000 version, Jesus, Mary, and Judas all make this face at each other after the crowd in "Hosanna" sings its final line.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The High Priests and Pharisees.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Herod and Simon.
  • Only Sane Man: Judas, at least from his perspective. Likewise, Caiaphas from his.
  • Original Cast Precedent: The high Metal Scream in almost every version of "Gethsemane"? Not written in the sheet music. Just the basic melody and an ad-libbed note.
    • The casting of a black actor as Judas. The original concept album had a white singer performing Judas, but the first stage production cast a black actor, and so it's been ever since, thanks to Faux Symbolism.
  • Passion Play
  • Prophecy Twist
  • Putting on the Reich: In the 2000 version, Pilate's uniform is purposefully reminiscent of the Gestapo.
  • The Queen's Latin: Pilate.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Done literally by Jesus in "Gethsemane," and Judas in "Judas' Death."
  • Recycled in Space: The story of Jesus... IN The Seventies!
  • Refrain From Assuming: The opening song that Judas sings is "Heaven on Their Minds," not "Listen Jesus" or any variation thereupon.
    • Jesus' Heroic BSOD Song is simply "Gethsemane," not "I Only Want To Say," though it is sometimes called "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)."
    • The finale is simply "Superstar," not "Jesus Christ Superstar."
  • The Resenter: Judas
  • Rule of Cool: The new[when?] stage adaptation runs on this. For example, during the performance of "Pilate's Dream", Pilate is surrounded by government officials who move in slow motion, then speed up, Zack Snyder-style. On stage.
  • Scenery Porn: Norman Jewison really took advantage of filming in Israel for the first film.
  • Screw Destiny: Both Judas and Jesus are sorely tempted to try this, but both succumb to You Can't Fight Fate for different reasons.

Judas: You want me to do it! What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition? Christ, you deserve it!

  • Shaming the Mob: Pilate lambasts the mob screaming for Jesus to be crucified, since he sees Jesus as a harmless crazy man being used as a scapegoat by the mob for the revolutionary rumblings his presence set off. Nearly half of Pilate's final song is calling the crowd hypocrites and pointing out the Disproportionate Retribution they're forcing him to deal to Jesus.

Pilate: I see no reason! I find no evil! This man is harmless, so why does he upset you?! He's just misguided! Thinks he's important! But to keep you vultures happy I will flog him!

  • Shaped Like Itself: "You liar! You Judas!"
  • Shout-Out: In the 1973 film, when Jesus and the twelve apostles sit down for The Last Supper, they all freeze for a moment in the exact poses depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of The Last Supper. Movie fans have used this scene to identify exactly which actors are playing which apostles, since not all of them are identified by name in the film.
  • Silent Credits: In the 1973 film. Considering it's a musical, the effect is somewhat unnerving.
  • Skyward Scream: Several, usually combined with Epic Rocking and Milking the Giant Cow.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Depending on the production, the entire message of the play can be changed. The songs and script themselves are just general enough to paint Jesus or Judas as the protagonist to root for. Jesus can vary between being well, a pretty nice guy, to a snob who's all talk. To this day people still aren't sure whether the play was intended to give a family-friendly Christian story, or whether it was made to cast a more jaded light on it.
  • Something We Forgot[context?]
  • Soprano and Gravel: Frequently used with Annas and Caiaphas, especially as performed by Kurt Yaghjian and Bob Bingham in the 1973 version.
  • Stealth Pun: Some particularly clever ones.
    • Not least the entirety of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" which, if listened to properly, is a song consisting almost entirely of innuendo.
    • Caiaphas: (comforting Judas) "What you have done will be the saving of Israel!"
    • Judas:(considering not betraying Jesus) "Christ, you deserve it!"
  • A Taste of the Lash: The 39 lashes... in song.
  • They Just Don't Get It: The entire point of the song "Poor Jerusalem".
  • Thirty Pieces of Silver: The trope-naming incident is deconstructed in the song "Damned for All Time". Judas here makes it clear to Caiphas and Annas that he doesn't want to betray Jesus, but is concerned that his followers are moving away from the talks of charity and self-improvement in favor of taking on the Romans. Jesus is also not listening to reason, perhaps buying into his own ego. Caiphas agrees, and offers money in exchange for Jesus's location. Judas refuses, saying that he is not taking blood money. Caiphas and Annas convince him that it is not blood money, and he can use it to help the poor.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Caiaphas and Annas.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Judas' Death. This is what all other breakdown tropes want to be when they grow up. It is the God of character meltdowns.
  • Villain Song: "This Jesus Must Die" and "King Herod's Song."
  • Voice Types: Jesus, Judas, Simon Zealotes and King Herod are tenors. Mary Magdalene is an alto. Pilate and Peter are baritones. Caiaphas is a bass. Annas is a countertenor, unless you cross-cast, in which case s/he is usually a mezzo-soprano.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jesus and Judas.
    • Arguably, Caiaphas, who thinks that Jesus is a pretty cool guy, but feels that he has to have him killed to prevent him from stirring up revolution and provoking retaliation from Rome. When Judas is having his BSOD, Caiaphas comforts him, saying that his actions have saved Israel.
  • World of Ham: Israel in 33 AD.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: One of the main themes (along with all the Ho Yay). Jesus, Judas, Pilate and even Peter struggle to escape the roles that have been written for them, or at least to pass/pin the blame for their part on someone else, but to no avail. God will have His martyr, His betrayer(s), and His bloody, horrible ending.