Ted Neeley speaks about his role of lifetime in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as he prepares to meet fans
Just in time for the holiday season, actor and singer Ted Neeley will be at Mary Pickford D’Place in Cathedral City for an one-night-only screening of the digitally-remastered 2K print (DCP) of the film that made Neeley a star - “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Neeley will be there to discuss and introduce the film, attend a VIP reception, and meet fans after the screening. This event takes place this Saturday, December 9 at the Mary Pickford D’Place Theater in Cathedral City, California at 7 P.M.
Ted Neeley was a rock ‘n roll artist when he accepted the role for the Broadway production for the musical “Hair.” Neeley went on to the role of the understudy for Jesus in the Broadway production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a musical with a score written my Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. When the production went to Los Angeles, Neeley performed as Jesus – to rave reviews.
Director Norman Jewison gave Neeley the role of a lifetime by casting him as Jesus from Nazareth in the film version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” For his performance, Neeley received two Golden Globe Award nominations.
Neeley took to the stage for a revival in 1992 that was expected to last for three months, instead the revival toured the country from 1992 through 1997. Neeley has continued to return to the role throughout the last two decades, performing mainly in Italy. “We’ve been in Europe and all over Italy. We’ve been doing the Italian thing since 2014. It was originally supposed to be a six week tour but has turned into our fourth year.”
Neeley met his wife Leeyan Granger in the screen version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and it’s clear that he is a true family man that considered his fans of all ages as a form of an extended family. Fans have told Neeley that “Jesus Christ Superstar,” is a main staple of movies to watch for the whole family, especially near the Easter and Christmas holidays. “Since the film came out in 1973, each new generation loves this film. They see it with their families at home and now we have four generations of families that come to see us together whenever we go out on the road,” said Neeley.
With “Jesus Christ Superstar” being so popular with its fans, sometimes they question Neeley about playing the role over and over again, “People tell me that I am so luck and fortunate, and I am. And they ask me if I am tired of performing the same thing all these years long and I say no, I can’t wait to get on the stage again. Sometimes I feel like my feet don’t even touch the floor. There is nothing better than to know what I do makes people smile and enjoy themselves.”
With genealogy being such a hot topic today, Neely and discussed his Cherokee roots, “My grandfather on my mother’s side was such a sweetheart. He was the only grandparent I knew, all my other grandparents were already gone. He had a wonderful sense of humor and it was through him is how I related to Cherokees.”
When Neeley is in the United States, he always tries to make a personal appearance with a screening of his film in the desert. His last time in the Palm Springs area was about two years ago. So, I asked Neeley why he loved coming here, “It reminds me so much of how I felt when we were in Israel making 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' which took me back to times in my childhood in Texas with mostly ranches, cattle and sheep. It was a desert-type of living. I love coming to the Palm Springs area because there is something very special and natural about the desert. I get this spiritual connection here because it is so open. There has got to be something special here that keeps that essence. It’s magical to me when I am at the desert.”
Ted Neeley embraces his role of lifetime portraying Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This multi-talented singer, actor and performer could easily find work doing something else – but it is the role that made him a star, the role that allowed him to meet his wife, the role that connects him to four generations of fans and ultimately the role that reminds him of his own DNA that Neeley has not taken for granted. Not bad for a kid from a small town in Texas.