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  • In 1970, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber burst onto the worldwide stage with the concept album of a musical about the last days of Jesus, the landmark rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, which, in concert; onstage on Broadway, the West End and international stages; and onscreen, became an entertainment juggernaut and also quite controversial, for one reason or another, in religious circles. Around this time of year, with the Easter season, there're hundreds of licensed productions, But now the rock opera will launch the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular across 54 cities in the U.S. and Canada, beginning in New Orelans on June 9 at Lakefront Arena. 

    Sirs Tim and Andrew are in town to announce the plans for and promote the tour at a Friday press conference. The musical will star Ben Foster as Jesus, Grammy-nominated lead vocalist Brandon Boyd of rock band Incubus as Judas Iscariot, Grammy-winning Destiny's Child vocalist Michelle Williams as Mary Magdalene, punster John "Johnny Rotten" Lyndon [Sex Pistols] as Herod, and Grammy-nominated 'N Sync vocalist JC Chases as Pontius Pilate.  

    Foster appeared on Broadway in March 2013 in the eagerly-anticipated but short-lived production of Lyle Kessler's Orphans, with music by Tom Kit and which co-starred Alec Baldwin and Tom Sturbridge.

    Foster's had roles in Lone Survivor, the film adaptation of The Laramie Project, the remake of the 50s Western 3:10 to Yuma, The Mechanic, Bang, Bang, You're Dead, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Contraband. 

    At a Friday media preview, Foster, in megastar mode, brought down the audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom with his powerful and moving rendition of "Gethsemane."

    Foster, in his early 30s, is the apt age to play Jesus; however, he's not the most likely person you'd think of for the role. He was the winner of Superstar, the U.K. TV casting contest, co-produced by Lloyd Webber [which has netted a number of West End stars], to play Jesus in the 2012 premiere of the concert version at the 02 arena, starred in a telecast, and a hugely successful Brit and Australian tours. 

    Lyndon, in a raucous mood, as one might expect of the rock legend, proved he'll not only be a memorable King Herod, but that it'll also be wild 'n crazy tour.

    Tickets for the first leg of the tour go on sale April 11. Presenter Michael Cohl, one of the lead producers of Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, says, "I'm delighted to report this is a show with no flying." The rock opera is presented with modern hip costuming and ultra contemporary rock concert design. It will be transported mega-rock star concert-like in a convoy of 18-wheelers. Prices will vary by market, but will be in the range of $29.50-$125.

    Other cities on the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular tour: Birmingham, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, Austin, Houston, and Dallas. There'll be stops in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay and L.A.'s Staples Center. It will play New York's Madison Square Garden August  5.

    Lloyd Webber says that following the U.S. and Canada, "there might be plans to take the concert further into Europe and, perhaps, Latin America."  

    Prior to Broadway, the rock opera toured arenas and amphitheatres in a concert version, "but," says Lloyd Webber, "we were never able to do the show as we originally conceived it. Now, with all the advances in technology, in this full-scale production, we can present the perfect mix of rock music and theater." 

    Rice explains that the original concert was passed over by theatrical producers, "which in retrospect, I am thankful for. If we had gone right into theatres, we would never have had a full orchestra with a rock contingent. We went the only route available to us: a record album [MCA Records]. That led to a national concert tour. At the Hellinger premiere, we had a sizable orchestra with a good rock mix, but there were always problems with the sound."

    Lloyd Webber laughs about other problems, such as "the radio mikes. They not only picked up the vocalists, but also taxi calls and police calls. This is another area where technology has advanced immensely.

    Songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, probably Rice and Lloyd Webber's most eclectic score, include, ''Superstar," "What's the Buzz," "Strange Thing Mystifying," ''Everything's Alright," "Hosanna," the  showstopping "King Herod's Song," and the beautiful ballads "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Could We Start Again, Please?" It debuted at Broadway's Hellinger Theatre in 1971. It was nominated for five Tony Awards.

    The original Tom O'Horgan production, starring Jeff Fenholt, Yvonne Eliman, and Tony-nominated Ben Vereen [as Judas] received five Tony Award nominations, including one for the Rice-Lloyd Webber score. The 1973 film adaptation, directed by five-time Oscar-nominee Norman Jewison, starred Ted Neely. The most recent Broadway revival, in 2012, was directed  by Des McAnuff.

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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