Standing ovation for Ted Neeley and cast of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Rome opening!

Opening night at Il Sistina
There was a buzz of excitement in the air in the packed foyer of Teatro Sistina in Rome yesterday evening. Some forty years after appearing as Jesus in Norman Jewison’s big screen version of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and thousands of stage performances in the role, Ted Neeley was about to tread the boards in those famous sandals for the first time ever before a European audience.

Italian rock group Negrita were to play live on stage throughout the show, with the band’s frontman Pau in the part of Pontius Pilate, so I wasn’t too surprised to see so many young faces in the audience, but as the curtain went up it became clear that people of all ages were there to see its star, Ted Neeley, whose first appearance on stage elicited a huge cheer. When he started to sing, in a voice made richer and deeper by the passage of time, but with all the power and range of a man half his age, the audience cheered even louder. So electrifying, in fact, was his performance that the musical was quite literally brought to a halt on several occasions by spontaneous applause, with an extraordinary protracted standing ovation mid-song during Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).

There were also some fine supporting performances from fellow cast members – I particularly enjoyed Shel Shapiro and Paride Acacia’s moments together on stage as Caiaphas and Annas, Pau’s languid Pilate's Dream, and Emiliano Geppetti’s turn as Simon the Zealot. The revelation of this production, however, was surely newcomer Feysal Bonciani as Judas, whose vocal dexterity and charismatic stage presence were reminiscent of the late, great Carl Anderson.

The production boasts some ingenious set designs by Giancarlo Muselli and Teresa Caruso, which make excellent use of the limited stage space available at Teatro Sistina, and through the use of large projected images skillfully introduce the anachronistic elements common to all productions.

The audience reaction was ecstatic at the close of the show, with a standing ovation lasting 15 minutes and even an encore sung by Judas. Truly amazing!

This special twentieth anniversary production of the Italian stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo and presented in English, will run until 1st June 2014 – catch it if you can if you’re in Rome over the next few weeks. It’s a must see!