‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Musical Is Broadway-Bound

What’s the buzz? A hit production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Canada is coming south to Broadway.

Producers announced Tuesday that the rock musical about the last days of Jesus written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice will hit New York in the spring, a move that was widely expected.

Previews will begin on March 1 at the Neil Simon Theatre and an official opening is set for March 22. Des McAnuff, the artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, where the revival originated this summer, will again direct.

“I’m extremely happy, and very, very happy for the company of actors because I think they anticipated that this might happen and I certainly haven’t discouraged them from believing that,” McAnuff said by phone from Italy.

The guitar- and keyboard-driven musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1971, includes such songs as “What’s the Buzz?” ‘‘Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” The original production earned five Tony Award nominations, including one for Ben Vereen, who played Judas. A film version was released in 1973.

The musical dramatizes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the unrest caused by his preaching and popularity, his betrayal by Judas, the trial before Pontius Pilate and his ultimate crucifixion. It marked an early collaboration between Lloyd Webber and Rice, who would go on to create “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Evita,” which is coming back to Broadway in the spring of 2012.

“Superstar” was first introduced as an album before being staged on Broadway and McAnuff says his production is very faithful to the original recording. “We’ve treated it more like an opera than a musical,” he said. The new production also teases out the story’s love triangle.

The latest stage production opened at the Canadian festival in June and ends its run there on Nov. 6 before moving to the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California, for final tweaking from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31 before its Broadway run.

A number of other productions put on at the Stratford Festival have found their way to Broadway, including 2002’s “King Lear” with Christopher Plummer and the 2009 production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” starring and directed by Brian Bedford.

Though no casting was announced for Broadway, McAnuff anticipates keeping together most of the cast he originally molded, including Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene, Paul Nolan as Jesus, Josh Young as Judas Iscariot, Bruce Dow as King Herod, and Brent Carver as Pontius Pilate.

Photo: AP Photo
Image released by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Paul Nolan portrays Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," in Stratford, Ontario.

Producers hope “Jesus Christ Superstar” will find a receptive Broadway audience that has already seen revivals of such 1970s-era shows as “Hair” and “Godspell,” which starts performances later this month. It also taps into the religious-themed musicals that have settled on Broadway – “Sister Act” and “The Book of Mormon.”

“I think there is that great expression, ‘There’s something in the air.’ I suppose that’s what it is,” said McAnuff, who was a teenager when he first saw “Hair” in Toronto. “That kind of anarchic process that went into creating albums and shows in those days is perhaps taking on a kind of new respect.”