Jesus Christ Superstar

by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Time Rice

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Act I Summary

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Act I
The play opens with the actors arriving in a desert, laden with their costumes and props. In the film version, a battered bus slowly makes its way across the desert into the foreground. The actors ready themselves, slipping into costume and character, preparing to give a performance of the last seven days of Christ’s life, as much for their own sakes as for the pleasure of the audience. The largest, most awkward piece to unload is the heavy wooden cross. Judas observes these preparations from afar, edgy and already aloof from the rest of the group.

Act I: Heaven on Their Minds
As Judas watches the others, he begins to formulate and to articulate to himself just what is bothering him about Jesus: his superstar status, his moving from a vehicle of God’s message to a show in and of himself. The followers think ‘‘they’ve found a new Messiah,’’ and Judas worries about their anger when they discover Christ is just a man. Meanwhile Jesus shares his peaceful message to an adoring crowd.

Act I: What’s the Buzz
At the house of Simon the Leper, the apostles press a tired Jesus to tell them where their group will go next, to begin a political and religious revolution, demanding, ‘‘When do we ride into the Jerusalem?’’ The apostles fail to notice that Jesus needs to withdraw and rest, but Mary Magdalene offers solace, saying ‘‘Let me try to cool down your face a bit.’’ Christ tells them that only Mary knows what he needs.

Act I: Strange Thing Mystifying
Judas cannot stand that Jesus lets a former prostitute (‘‘a woman of her kind’’) attend to him, but Christ hurls back, ‘‘If your slate is clean, then you can throw stones / If your slate is not, then leave her alone.’’ Mary sings ‘‘Everything’s Alright,’’ but Judas continues to prod, saying that the money for her ‘‘fine ointments . . . could have been saved for the poor.’’ Jesus admonishes Judas and the apostles not to waste their precious time, since he knows he will not be among them for long.

Act I: This Jesus Must Die / Hosanna
The next morning, the Jewish Priests convene to decide what to do about the ‘‘rabble-rouser’’ whose mad mob can be seen and heard singing ‘‘Hosanna! Superstar!’’ in the background. Annas, father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas, emphasizes the danger, since the Romans, who occupy their land, will surely punish all Jews for the revolutionary behavior of one man and his band of wild followers. Caiaphas decides that ‘‘like John before him, this Jesus must die.’’ Jesus addresses Caiaphas and the priests gently, explaining that ‘‘nothing can be done to stop the shouting,’’ while the ecstatic followers wave palms and joyfully anticipate their triumphant entrance to Jerusalem.

Act I: Simon Zealotes
The now rather large crowd moves in choreographed rhythm with Jesus, asking to be touched, kissed, acknowledged. Simon sees that this powerful force of ‘‘over fifty thousand’’ has political potential. ‘‘Keep them yelling their devotion,’’ he advises Jesus, ‘‘But add a touch of hate at Rome.’’ Perhaps they can oust the Romans and regain their land. Jesus responds with a simple gesture of peace.

Act I: Poor Jerusalem
As Jesus begins to sing, the crowd quiets and sits in a circle around him. His song expresses his worry that his followers, although they chant their adoration, do not truly understand power and glory. The end of the song shifts inward, when he both realizes and explains that ‘‘to conquer death you only have to die.’’

Act I: Pilate’s Dream
Pontius Pilate...

(This entire section contains 810 words.)

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is a Roman Governor disturbed by a dream he has had, in which a Galilean is martyred and he, Pilate, takes the blame. Pilate is a man usually comfortable with his station and power, but the dream leaves him unsettled.

Act I: The Temple
Moneylenders, prostitutes, wine-, goat-, and carpet-sellers have taken over the temple. Christ strides up to them and angrily turns over tables, protesting, ‘‘My temple should be a house of prayer.’’ After shouting for the ‘‘den of thieves’’ to ‘‘get out,’’ Jesus sinks into a reverie, summing up his three years on earth, but even in this private moment he is besieged by the sick and poor, who crowd him until he screams at them, ‘‘Heal yourselves!’’

Act I: Everything’s Alright (Reprise) & I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Mary Magdalene once again soothes Jesus to sleep, and then goes into her own reverie about her conflicting feelings, both platonic and romantic, for this man.

Act I: Damned for All Time
Meanwhile, Judas, in anguish but armed with resolve, offers to betray Christ’s whereabouts to the priests, who give him thirty pieces of silver for his service. The priests plan to have Jesus arrested and turned over to the Romans for execution.

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Act II Summary